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June 13 TN News Digest

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

800 jobs to be added at Pulaski factory (Marshall County Tribune)

A factory in Pulaski is expanding to add automotive lighting as part of its production there, the governor said Monday evening. The expansion of Magneti Marelli will create 800 jobs in Giles County, Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced. “Magneti Marelli’s announcement … has to be the biggest economic development project in the history of Pulaski Pulaski Mayor Pat Ford said. “The jobs that will be created are sorely needed.”

Haslam Touts TN’s No-Income-Tax Status Before National TV Audience (TN Report)

Tennessee’s governor bragged Tuesday on national television about the relative economic merits of living in a state where the electorate has historically resisted government attempts to impose income and payroll taxes on the citizenry. The absence of state and local levies on personal incomes and business workforces has made Tennessee an attractive destination for industry, entrepreneurs and investors, Gov. Haslam suggested.

May Revenues $15.6M More than Expected (TN Report)

Tennessee revenue collections continued an upward growth trend in May with a net positive growth of 3.40% over collections made in the same month last year. Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes reported today that overall May revenues were $871.1 million, which is $15.6 million more than the state budgeted. “May marks the tenth consecutive month this year in which total collections have exceeded the budgeted estimates,” Emkes said.

More Strong State Revenue, But Sales Tax Growth Slows (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee once again brought in more tax dollars than expected last month. That’s been the case for the whole budget year so far. But today’s numbers came with a few words of caution. Sales tax collections in Tennessee have been headed up more than two straight years. Sales taxes are vital in a state with no income tax – something Governor Bill Haslam happened to be touting on CNBC about the same time the state’s numbers were released.

Tennessee ECD earns ‘golden shovel’ (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee is touting its status in Area Development magazine, a key publication in economic development circles. The magazine named Tennessee one of several Golden Shovel Award winners, and also recognized it for an economic development project of the year: General Motors’ 2011 decision to rehire nearly 2,400 jobs in Spring Hill. The following are excerpts from a Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development news release: The Volunteer State, along with Texas, South Carolina and Utah, were named the winners of the magazine’s 2012 Gold Shovel Awards, presented annually to states that have achieved significant success in terms of job creation and economic impact.

Tennessee recognized for economic development (Associated Press)

Tennessee has been ranked among the best in economic development by a national publication. Area Development magazine picked the state for a 2012 Gold Shovel Award, along with Texas, South Carolina and Utah. The award goes annually to states that have achieved major success in job creation and economic impact. Tennessee also received the award in 2009. Additionally, the state was recognized as a 2011 Economic Development Project of the Year for the $235 million General Motors venture in Spring Hill that is expected to create 2,350 jobs.

Teachers could gain some help (Times-Gazette)

SCORE, the education think tank founded by former U.S. Senator Bill Frist, was asked late last year by Gov. Bill Haslam to evaluate the state’s teacher evaluation system, and after soliciting feedback statewide it released its report this week. SCORE is short for State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Bedford County School Superintendent Dr. Ray Butrum said Tuesday afternoon he had not yet seen a copy of the final report, which was released Tuesday, but was aware of some of the issues being examined and in fact had discussed them Tuesday morning in a meeting with principals.

SCORE releases report on new teacher evaluation system (State Gazette)

As education evolves, there is much talk about what tools are most important in providing students with the best possible classroom experience. The answer? An effective teacher. This statement acknowledges the importance of educators across the state and their role in providing a quality education to the next generation. It also turns the magnifying glass of educational reform upon those educators as state and federal mandates raise the rigor of curriculum and bring focus to teacher evaluations. On Monday, June 11, The State Collaborative on Reforming Education released a report offering the results of a recent charge by Gov. Bill Haslam to collect feedback from educators and stakeholders across the state on the effectiveness of the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

SCORE completes survey on teacher evaluations (Nooga)

Nearly one year into the implementation of Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system, a survey of more than 15,000 teachers commissioned by Gov. Bill Haslam has been completed. Last December, Haslam tapped the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) to partner in conducting an independent, third-party review of the new system, called TEAM—an acronym for Teacher Education Acceleration Model. Implemented as a key component of the state’s First to the Top reform efforts, TEAM requires teachers to be observed by principals at least four times a year and be measured on a five-point scale.

Anti-Muslim activists take aim at Haslam hire (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tea party and anti-Muslim activists are taking aim at a recent hire by the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam, targeting one of its top economic development officers based on her religion and past work experience. The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., organization that has frequently attacked Muslims for perceived ties to Islamist groups, and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, an umbrella organization of West Tennessee tea party groups, have urged their members to pressure Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty to dump Samar Ali, an attorney appointed last month as the department’s new international director.

First Lady to visit Smokies Stadium (Mountain Press)

Smokies Stadium will get a lady’s touch this evening as Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam visits the ballpark to promote her reading initiative, an event that will include free books for the first 200 children through the gates. Promoting literacy and family reading has been a cornerstone of Haslam’s efforts as she labors beside her husband, Gov. Bill Haslam. As part of that she started the First Lady’s Read20 Book Club, which encourages Tennessee families to spend at least 20 minutes reading with their children every day.

TBR committee recommends tuition hike for universities, colleges (CP/Greenberg)

The Tennessee Board of Regents will consider a tuition hike for system universities, community colleges and technology centers at its quarterly meeting in Memphis next month. Tennessee State University is proposing to raise mandatory and maintenance fees — the TBR’s equivalent of tuition — by 5.6 percent. Overall, it could cost a student that enrolls for 15 hours of class an extra $662 per year. TSU’s proposed tuition increase was the third lowest among TBR universities. Middle Tennessee State University could see a 6.8 percent, or $852, increase in fees.

College tuition hikes show no signs of slowing (Tennessean/Young)

Report comes as regents say more on the way When those college tuition bills come in, be prepared for sticker shock. Average tuition at four-year public universities nationwide climbed 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, fueled by state budget cuts for higher education — and in Tennessee, the numbers probably will go up again this fall. The state Board of Regents submitted its proposed tuition increases on Tuesday. If approved later this month, Middle Tennessee State University will see a 6.8 percent increase over this year and Tennessee State University will see a 5.6 percent increase.

ETSU tuition increased by 7.2 percent for fall (Johnson City Press)

A tuition increase for this fall at East Tennessee State University of 7.2 percent was approved by a committee of the school’s governing body Tuesday. If approved by the full Tennessee Board of Regents later this month, the increase would help ETSU increase pay for faculty and staff, ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins said. Collins said if a student at ETSU takes 15 hours of class at the recommended increased rate, tuition would be $6,997 per year, assuming the discount for hours taken beyond 12 each semester does not change According to the Associated Press, ETSU had the highest increase beyond the Tennessee Board of Regent’s base recommendations for its schools.

Tennessee agencies target drunken driving (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The next time there is a fatal traffic accident linked to drunken driving in Tennessee, the investigative eyes of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Tennessee Highway Patrol will be watching. The ABC, which issues liquor licenses in Tennessee, now has direct access to the THP’s computer database for accidents related to drunken driving. That means the commission will know sooner about any distributor who may be serving underage drinkers or visibly intoxicated ones, officials said Tuesday.

Local Pharmacy Graduate To Lead TennCare Program (WCYB-TV Chattanooga)

There’s a new clinical director of the Tenncare pharmacy program, and he has ties to our area. Doctor Michael Polson received a doctorate degree in May from East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. Polson says his degree provided him with a strong clinical foundation, which he says he will use daily to enhance the pharmaceutical care of over 1.2 million Medicaid eligible Tennsseans.

Victims’ advocates want court translation services expanded (Tennessean/Haas)

The message from the federal government to Tennessee was clear: Provide free translation services to all non-English speakers in court or lose billions in federal funding. But as Tennessee is set to expand its translation services to even civil cases, a key question has been raised. Is the state doing enough to make sure non-English-speaking victims understand what is happening in the courtroom? While a translator is provided for victims during their testimony, once they leave the witness stand those services end.

Knox public defender forced to fire kin (News-Sentinel/Satterfield)

Two decades and two opinions later, Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens is firing his brother-in-law. “I’ve already notified (investigator) Mike (Stone) that, unfortunately, he’s got to go,” Stephens said Tuesday. “To be called in one day and told you can’t work here anymore after 20 years — in this job market?” Stephens said he was forced to fire Stone, an investigator assigned to the Public Defender’s Office’s DUI division, after the state Attorney General’s Office opined in a June 7 decision that Stephens’ employment of his brother-in-law violated Tennessee’s Nepotism Act, which was passed in 1980 and bars family members from working in the same agency if one of them has a “direct of line supervision” over the other.

Tennessee area lawmakers happy with recent session (Herald-Courier)

The Tennessee General Assembly’s 2012 session featured a wide range of accomplishments, including the law banning the sale of synthetic drugs, two area legislators said Tuesday. During a legislative wrap-up breakfast sponsored by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and District 1 state Rep. Jon Lundberg said that many Tennessee lawmakers and Gov. Bill Haslam were initially unaware of the major problems being caused by synthetic drugs across Northeast Tennessee.

Ramsey, Lundberg back Shipley in 2nd House race (Times-News)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Rep. Jon Lundberg said Tuesday they will endorse Kingsport Republican incumbent Tony Shipley in the 2nd House District GOP primary. Those endorsements are expected to be made public at a campaign kick-off event Shipley will hold next week. Shipley is facing a primary challenge from former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote. The 2nd House District includes part of Kingsport, Colonial Heights, Indian Springs and Sullivan Gardens.

One Way or Another, Somebody’s Getting Re-Elected in HD 57 (TN Report)

Were it not for the hundreds of lawn signs and bumper stickers collecting dust in her garage, Susan Lynn might have chosen a different slogan to launch her political comeback. But the outspoken former state rep nevertheless does feel fully entitled to run a “Re-Elect Susan Lynn” campaign, even though she hasn’t been a member of the Tennessee Legislature for the last two years. “I don’t even have a logo that doesn’t say ‘Re-Elect Susan Lynn,’” said the Mt. Juliet Republican, who served four terms in the state House before launching an unsuccessful run at the Senate in 2010.

Debra Maggart, in GOP leadership role, lands a primary opponent (TN/Wilson)

Rep. Debra Maggart hasn’t needed to campaign for an August election in years. After the Hendersonville state representative won a seven-way race for an open primary seat in 2004, and as she ascended to GOP caucus chairwoman, she never faced another challenger from her own party. This year, however, is different. Maggart’s Republican challenger is not only her first in eight years, but also has picked up several endorsements from conservatives who feel the incumbent hasn’t been conservative enough. The early race, Maggart said, is nothing she can’t handle.

Rep. Curry Todd allowed to keep gun permit (Associated Press)

State Rep. Curry Todd can keep his handgun carry permit despite being indicted on drunken driving and weapons charges, the state Safety Department said Tuesday. Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said the Collierville Republican can continue to be armed in public while the case is pending. A drunken driving conviction would cause the permit to be suspended for one year, she said. Todd, 64, is a retired Memphis police officer and a chief architect of a state law to allow handgun carry permit holders to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Men’s Health Report Card Shows Gains in Tennessee (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Men in Tennessee still have a way to go in improving their health, according to a Vanderbilt report released Tuesday. It showed Fs in cancer-related deaths but As in heart disease. Vanderbilt professor David Penson says that this year’s grades don’t necessarily indicate better or worse health in Tennessee men compared with a report card that came out two years ago. “The CDC changed the goals. Frankly, they lowered the bar a little bit.” One goal that became a lot less ambitious was the reduction of gonorrhea in men, where Tennessee scored an F in 2010 and an A this year.

Conservative group’s poll finds 68 percent oppose tax increase (CP/Garrison)

A poll commissioned by a conservative think tank found 68 percent of Davidson County voters oppose Mayor Karl Dean’s property tax increase proposal, a solid majority its leadership says is indicative of widespread resistance to the mayor’s plan. “We have heard over and over that the public is on the mayor’s side,” Beacon Center of Tennessee CEO Justin Owen said in a statement Tuesday. “We wanted to find out for ourselves, and the results of this survey unequivocally show that despite what the mayor has been saying, taxpayers do not support his plan to increase taxes.”

Free-market group says poll finds most oppose property tax hike (TN/Wilson)

A poll commissioned by a state anti-tax group found more than two-thirds of likely Metro Nashville voters oppose Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed 53-cent tax increase. The Beacon Center of Tennessee released this part of a more expansive poll Tuesday morning, saying that 68 percent of those polled opposed the potential budget and tax plan, which would raise property tax assessment by 53cents per $100 of assessed value. Only 21 percent of people supported the plan, according to a statement from the center.

Knox judge recuses self from commissioner’s sex charge case (N-S/Satterfield)

The case against a Knox County commissioner accused of engaging in sexual activity with another man in a public park is on hold after a judge Tuesday recused himself from the case. Commissioner Jeff Ownby was set Tuesday to appear in Knox County General Sessions Court on an indecent exposure charge filed after Knoxville Police Department officers arrested him late last month for allegedly engaging in a sex act with another man in the Sharps Ridge public park.

Commission to privately mull public notice ruling (Daily News Journal)

Will discuss planners’ vote to appeal judge’s decision Not everyone agrees the Rutherford County Commission should decide Thursday to follow the planning commission’s call to appeal a court ruling that voided approval of mosque. Chancellor Robert Corlew III recently determined that the county government failed to provide adequate public notice under the totality of the circumstances before the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approved the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro construction plans to build 52,960 square feet on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike May 24, 2010.

Senators team up to avert fiscal fall (Commercial Appeal/Sullivan)

Tenn., Miss. lawmakers confront budget impasse A resolution is months away, but Tennessee’s and Mississippi’s pragmatist senators, all Republicans, said Tuesday they are working to prevent a fiscal train wreck set in motion by continued congressional procrastination. Sen. Lamar Alexander has been working behind the scenes to have a legislative initiative ready by September to address the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming Dec. 31.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher: Farm bill will bring big changes (C. Appeal/Sells)

Farmers better get used to the idea that federal crop subsidies will likely disappear when the 2012 Farm Bill takes effect in September, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, said Tuesday. The Senate began its review of the five-year farm bill last week. Negotiations on the legislation are expected to take weeks. The new farm bill is expected to cut $23.6 billion over 10 years by cutting payments to farmers, conservation programs and nutrition programs like food stamps.

3rd District ads begin airing today (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Your satellite dish might get hundreds of cable channels — or maybe you’re content with ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Either way, get ready for the blitz — two 3rd Congressional District candidates plan to inhabit your TV starting this week. U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann plans to hit districtwide airwaves today with radio and television advertisements that tell a humble-beginnings tale as he attempts to beat six challengers for his seat. One of those challengers, 25-year-old Weston Wamp, said he’ll begin “a very positive media campaign” Thursday with a week of network and cable television ads.

Congressional Candidate Mary Headrick seeks minimum wage boost (TFP/Carroll)

Seeking to dispel the notion that “lower-income people don’t work hard and don’t pay taxes,” Democratic congressional candidate Mary Headrick explained her support for raising the minimum wage in a Tuesday night speech. “The current minimum wage is not enough to live on,” she said. “If you have a family of three and you’re out there 40 hours a week, working hard and digging ditches in Tennessee’s red clay, I think you deserve a living wage so your wife and child can stay at home and you can support them.”

Method to Track Firearm Use Is Stalled by Foes (New York Times)

Identifying the firearm used in a crime is one of the biggest challenges for criminal investigators. But what if a shell casing picked up at a murder scene could immediately be tracked to the gun that fired it? A technique that uses laser technology and stamps a numeric code on shell casings can do just that. But the technology, called microstamping, has been swept up in the larger national debate over gun laws and Second Amendment rights, and efforts to require gun makers to use it have stalled across the nation.

Jobs could add millions to economy (Columbia Daily Herald)

The direct payroll of 800 employees to be hired at Magneti Marelli in Pulaski over the next three years will inject $25 million into the Middle Tennessee region, a top economic development director said. Dan Speer, Giles County economic development director, said Tuesday hiring for about 20 management positions, which includes logistics and purchasing personnel, will begin in about a month. Recruitment will be handled through Tennessee Career Centers located across the state, he said.

Knox hiring slows, but still growing (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Harris)

21% of employers surveyed to add jobs in 3rd quarter Knoxville-area employers are expected to hire at a steady rate in the third quarter, although job creation will slow from a strong second-quarter pace, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released Tuesday. Twenty-one percent of metropolitan Knoxville employers surveyed plan to add jobs in the July through September period, and 6 percent plan to decrease staff. Seventy-one percent intend to maintain current staffing levels, and 2 percent are uncertain.

Public School Alternatives Gain Steam in States (Stateline)

About mid-way through Alabama’s legislative session this spring, Governor Robert Bentley and top state education officials hit the road to visit charter schools in New Orleans, where a majority of public schools have been converted over to the charter model. The city is seen as a national laboratory for the publicly funded independent schools, which are exempt from many of the laws governing traditional public schools. The Alabama contingent was looking at the system in light of legislation before Alabama lawmakers that would legalize charter schools in Bentley’s state.

Chattanooga, CHA swap land without school board (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

After days of discussing a three-way land swap involving city of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Housing Authority and the school board property, the city counsel and CHA have decided to move forward alone. Chattanooga City Council voted to trade its Dogwood Manor Apartments and four acres of land off Shallowford Road to the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which already manages Dogwood, in a Tuesday meeting in exchange for the former Poss Homes site.

Legality of Shelby County Schools Supt. Aitken contract at issue (CA/Roberts)

Questions raised over extension by SCS board When the unified school board takes up the contracts of both school superintendents next week, the contract of Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken may be the one getting the most attention. Board member Diane George said Tuesday that the SCS board, of which George was a member, did not give 15 days’ notice last winter that it intended to extend Aitken’s contract, which is required by state law.

Questions Arise Over Cash Buyout Talks (Memphis Daily News)

Talks to buy out the contract of Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash began last December after a heated conversation between Cash and countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel. That’s what Orgel told school board members Monday, June 11, at a board meeting that adjourned after board members met behind closed doors for 35 minutes with their attorneys. Orgel said the “very heated exchange” with Cash came during a meeting with Orgel and the staff of both school systems to talk over agenda items for a coming school board meeting.

Commissioner Roland Raises Alarms Involving Charter Schools, Cleric (MF)

A Tuesday morning press conference scheduled by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland may, if Roland is inferring correctly from a set of documents he has come by, set off an explosion with consequences for his Commission colleague Brent Taylor, for former Mayor and Memphis school superintendent Willie Herenton, and for the charter school movement now gaining sway in Tennessee with the backing of Governor Bill Haslam’s administration. Roland announced at the close of Monday’s regular Commission meeting that he would be holding the press conference at 10:30 Tuesday in the fourth floor Commission library and would be discussing a variety of questions relating to pending charter school operations in Shelby County.

Two hackers claim to be ‘retired’ (Leaf Chronicle)

Two hackers who said they were associated with the group that claims to have accessed 110,000 Clarksville identities through the school system and released 14,525 of them now claim to have left hacking behind. In a flurry of Twitter messages Tuesday, the SpexSec group announced two key hackers were “retiring.” Earlier, the group had claimed to have access to a Clarksville dispatcher database, a Clarksville-based bus company and surveillance cameras.

Dry start to summer affecting Tennessee River (Associated Press/Dickerson)

Weather conditions that have dried parts of the Tennessee River valley to drought status are expected to persist across a hotter than usual summer. The lack of rainfall is posing challenges for river management to preserve recreation, water quality and municipal water supplies. As summer settles in, any significant rainfall will be limited to passing cold fronts. Most of the rain will come from typical convection thunderstorms, which are short-lived and spotty. The issue isn’t only what rain is or isn’t coming down, but also the moisture evaporating. National Weather Service meteorologist Bobby Boyd recently installed an evapotranspiration gauge at his house near Nashville.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Haslam could create a legacy by changing higher ed (Jackson Sun)

With dramatic changes to Tennessee’s K-12 public education system well under way, Gov. Bill Haslam now is turning his attention to higher education. There is little question that post-secondary education is Tennessee’s lifeline to the future. Securing that lifeline will require making college more affordable and developing a new vision for how higher education is structured and delivered. Haslam’s first order of business should be to look at the cost of higher education. Since 1990, average tuition has increased 368 percent at Tennessee’s four-year schools and 317 percent at two-year schools.

Editorial: SCORE puts ball in educators’ court (Tennessean)

Kudos to Gov. Bill Haslam for getting the State Collaboration on Reforming Education (SCORE) to make a first pass at Tennessee’s new teacher evaluation system; and we applaud the team for not making simplistic suggestions, as it will take significant iterative effort to make this complex initiative work. It is easy to criticize the report, issued Monday, as some have done, for not telling us exactly how to fix the report card system for Tennessee’s teachers, but that was not their charge. The governor asked the nonprofit organization to take a look at the first year of implementation, talk with teachers, principals and administrators and let us know what works, what doesn’t and suggest ways to improve the process.

Lamar Alexander: Tennessee needs air rule for jobs as well as health (Tennessean)

TVA has taken lead, but utilities in other states should comply Over the years I have learned that cleaner air means better jobs as well as better health for Tennesseans. That’s why I will soon vote to uphold a clean air rule that requires utilities in other states to install the same pollution controls that TVA already is installing on its coal-fired power plants. TVA alone can’t clean up our air. Tennessee is bordered by more states than any other state. We are surrounded by our neighbors’ smokestacks. If we want more Nissan and Volkswagen plants, we will have to stop dirty air from blowing into Tennessee.

Gail Kerr: Dean makes impassioned tax plea to Nashville’s power brokers (TN)

Every Monday at noon on the dot, a sea of 250 Nashville business leaders, an uncanny number of them wearing blue sportcoats, file into a downtown saloon, all the while back-slapping and glad-handing. The Downtown Rotary Club is, without question, the city’s most influential civic organization. Its diverse membership has a key voice in influencing Metro Council votes. Which is why Mayor Karl Dean chose it for making one last passionate stand to promote his budget and 53-cent property tax hike. “They are decision-makers, there’s no question about it,” said Peter Heidenreich, the club’s current program director and a lobbyist with Hall Strategies.

Frank Munger: Will DOE changes ease anxiety? (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

After months of anticipation (and, in some cases, dread), the restructuring of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office is now in effect and will be fully implemented by July 1. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the go-ahead earlier this week, and the reorganization in essence creates a series of site offices in Oak Ridge that report directly to their program leaders at DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. According to Chu and other DOE officials, the new structure will eliminate a layer of management and result in decisions being made at the lowest level in the organization that’s consistent with “best management practices.”

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