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June 28 TN News Digest

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

Governor Opposes Directing Cops to Check People’s Immigration Status (TNR)

Gov. Bill Haslam says he isn’t swayed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that it’s OK for local law enforcement to ask people to prove their citizenship during routine police stops. Haslam has stood in the way of legislative attempts to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Tennessee and instead ushered in other laws to discourage undocumented workers from settling in the Volunteer State. “My concern with an Arizona-type law has always been the position it puts local law enforcement in, of having to make those kind of judgements,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday in Nashville.

Haslam says Tenn. on track if health care upheld (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee is prepared to implement requirements under the federal health care overhaul in the event the Supreme Court upholds the law championed by President Barack Obama, despite serious resistance among Republican lawmakers to lay the groundwork for the program. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has made steady progress on establishing the health insurance exchange required by the law.

Haslam Hoping SCOTUS Blots Out Obamacare (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is rooting for the nation’s high court to strike down controversial federal health care reforms this week. But the state is ready to begin doing the U.S. government’s bidding if all or portions of the law remain intact, he said. Officials in the Volunteer State have already begun the preliminary steps of implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although Haslam and other GOP leaders are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will find it unconstitutional.

Haslam says Tennessee is ready for health care ruling (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says the state is ready for the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on health care reform, regardless of the court’s decision, Nashville public radio station WPLN 90.3 FM reports. Tennessee has been using federal grants to set up an insurance exchange. If the Affordable Care Act stands, the state will have to complete the exchange. “You know, if they don’t strike it down, we’re on that path. Obviously I’m hoping that they do, because I think it saves the state money long-term, and that’ll make things easier.

If court upholds health law, Tennessee is ready, Haslam says (TFP/Sher)

Tennessee will be able to carry out requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the controversial law and should President Barack Obama be re-elected, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said.But the governor, who opposes the law, is keeping his fingers crossed the high court will strike down the law in a decision expected to be released today. “Obviously I’m hoping that they do, because I think it saves the state money long term, and that will make things easier,” Haslam told reporters this week.

Nation awaits vital ruling on health care (Associated Press/Alonso-Zaldivar)

Decision will affect billions of dollars It seems as if the entire nation is holding its breath for the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling — the presidential candidates, governors of virtually every state, insurers with billions at stake, companies large and small and countless millions of Americans concerned about their own medical care and how they’ll pay for it. At stake in the court’s decision is health-care coverage for many of the more than 900,000 Tennessee residents who are uninsured.

Health Ruling Won’t Cure States’ Ills (Wall Street Journal)

No matter how the Supreme Court rules Thursday on the federal health-care law, states will face huge struggles paying for ballooning health expenses and swelling uninsured populations—a problem that has prompted some states to draft their own overhaul plans. In its most highly anticipated decision in years, the court is expected to determine the fate of President Barack Obama’s 2010 law by Thursday morning. The historic ruling could reshape the health-care industry, shift legal precedent and amplify the already-divisive role health care has played in this year’s elections.

Expect swift opinions in Supreme Court health care ruling (USA Today)

Tea Party and union members, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats have two things in common as the Supreme Court prepares to announce its verdict on President Obama’s health care law Thursday. They have no clue what the court will decide. And they will have plenty to say outside the court immediately after — in high praise or denunciation. Much like the court’s three days of oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act in late March, Thursday will feature a crowded, hushed courtroom and a cacophonous series of sidewalk demonstrations.

Statewide TCAP assessments show achievement gains for second year (L. Demo)

Gov. Bill Haslam and State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman have announced that statewide student performance on the 2012 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) improved for the second year in a row, as the state continues to push toward academic achievement through its First to the Top education reforms. Students reached higher levels of proficiency in 23 of 24 TCAP achievement tests in grades three through eight. Achievement also increased on most high school “end of course” exams.

Grant to fund tire recycling program (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County is set to receive a $466,000 waste tire recycling grant for fiscal 2014, according to state Sens. Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy. The announcement comes after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau released the recipients of 41 grants to help Tennessee communities recycle tires and keep them out of landfills, according to a statement. “These grants are very helpful in assisting counties with their tire recycling efforts,” said Tracy, R-Shelbyville.

Governor, first lady to hand out books before Redbirds game (WMC-TV Memphis)

The first 200 kids at tonight’s Redbirds game will receive a gift from Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam. The Haslam’s will be at the game to promote the first lady’s Read20 Family Book Club. The initiative’s goal is to encourage families to spend 20 minutes a day reading together. The first 200 children at the game will receive a free copy of Andrew Clements’ book “Frindle.”

U.S. Education Chief Praises TN for Student Performance Improvements (TNR)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a statement Wednesday congratulating Tennessee on its continued statewide improvement on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. “Through Race to the Top, Tennessee took on extraordinarily difficult work in a relatively short period of time,” said Duncan. “Early signs of widespread academic progress are not only encouraging but inspiring, and will help lay the ground work for further success as Tennessee continues its commitment to leading the nation in education reform.”

Lakeshore’s last days: Patients transferred to McNabb’s care (N-S/Nelson)

There was something special on the menu Monday for the last lunch these 11 people would be served as residents of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute. “Each patient told us their favorite meal, so that is what each one received,” said former dietary manager Linda Aberdeen, who’s taken a job at a nursing home. “It was very touching … a very moving experience.” At 1 p.m., those 11 long-term Lakeshore residents officially transitioned into being clients of Helen Ross McNabb Center, which will operate an “intensive long-term support” residential program on the campus, leasing space from the state for five years at $1 per year.

Roane Co. woman indicted 4th time for doctor shopping (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

A Roane Co. woman has been arrested for a fourth time for “doctor shopping” with TennCare, or going to multiple physicians in a short period to obtain prescription drugs, using TennCare to pay. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced Wednesday the arrest of 33-year old Crystal G. Farrar, indicted most recently in Roane County on four counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance by doctor shopping for the painkiller Oxycodone.

Slope work goes on, but all lanes of I-40 West now open in Cocke Co. (NS/Jacobs)

After nearly five months of motoring grief, workers have opened both lanes of westbound Interstate 40 in Cocke County that had been plagued with rock slides. The section of I-40 West near the North Carolina state line that had been reduced to one lane since Feb. 5 was reopened entirely June 21, according to Mark Nagi, regional spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Nagi said the state TDOT website that shows construction work and lane closures was updated Wednesday to reflect the lane opening.

State continues to fight retrial in case of convicted rapist Bailey (NS/Satterfield)

Prosecutors on Wednesday continued the fight to block a new trial for a convicted child rapist — one of a series of cases upended by the misdeeds of a former Knox County judge. At a hearing in Knox County Criminal Court, Assistant District Attorney General Phil Morton sought permission to appeal Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s order granting Jayson Bailey a new trial. Bailey was convicted in April 2010 of raping his stepdaughter.

Appeals court orders new trial in medical malpractice case (N-S/Balloch)

Brain-damaged child, parents were ‘denied fair trial’ A combination of errors by a Knox County Circuit Court judge prevented a brain-damaged girl and her parents from getting a fair trial in their medical malpractice case against a Knoxville doctor and hospital, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled. The appeals court ordered a new trial in the lawsuit brought by James and Katherine Mayo on behalf of Zona Mayo, who was born with brain damage and other medical problems.

Nichols hid signs of ex-judge’s misdeeds, attorneys contend (N-S/Satterfield)

Right motion. Wrong judge. So says defense attorneys in a biting response to the state’s bid to push Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood off the bench in one of Knoxville’s most horrific criminal cases — the torture slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. Defense attorneys Tom Dillard and Stephen Ross Johnson are firing back at Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols’ allegations of unethical conduct by Blackwood with accusations of their own: Nichols and his staff hid information about then-presiding Judge Richard Baumgartner’s misdeeds while Baumgartner was still on the bench handling the Christian/Newsom case.

Dems Lose Potential Pick-Up (Metro Pulse)

The Democrats had a rare chance to pick up a House seat this election, this one in West Knox County, the new 89th centered in Karns. Local attorney Shelley Breeding was a terrific candidate and if the four-way Republican primary becomes a dog fight, with former Sheriff Tim Hutchison winning, she had a chance to mobilize independents and Democrats and win. But the courts ruled she lives in Anderson County. The case has sparked controversy since the Republicans control the Election Commission.

Carr to push immigration plan (Daily News Journal)

Says he will introduce legislation in Jan. A Rutherford County lawmaker plans to reintroduce legislation requiring law officers to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld one of four measures this week in Arizona’s embattled law. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, said Wednesday he did not run House Bill 1380 last session because of a $5 million fiscal note but plans to revive the measure in January. Similar to a provision in the Arizona law, it would enable law enforcement officers to check the citizenship status of suspected illegal immigrants during the course of a routine police stop.

Campfield to stay on N.Y. hometown Wall of Fame (BP&S-B, TN/Micale, Sisk)

A New York high school will continue to honor a Tennessee state senator despite controversy over his comments about the origins of the virus that causes AIDS. The Vestal Board of Education refused to take Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, out of its high school’s Wall of Fame, despite an online petition and a public hearing on the issue Tuesday night. A Vestal student started a campaign to take Campfield’s picture down because of his views on homosexuality.

Murfreesboro mosque members watch court, consider action (AP/Loller)

The people most affected by a long-running court battle to stop construction of a Rutherford County mosque have no say in the case and the most to lose as it drags on. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro already is too small to handle the worshippers who spill into the parking lot during prayer services. And the Ramadan holiday beginning at the end of July will swell the crowd, making the need for a new space more urgent. Mosque members had hoped to be in their new building for Ramadan, but a protracted court battle between mosque opponents and the county will continue right through the Muslim holy month.

Hamilton County Commission expected to OK $642.3 million budget (TFP/Haman)

Hamilton County commissioners are set to vote today on a $642.3 million budget that includes a 3 percent across-the-board raise for county workers The budget County Mayor Jim Coppinger proposed two weeks ago doesn’t call for a tax increase but does raise fees on county ambulance transports by 45 percent to help stem recent losses from the service. “We’re hopeful it’s going to be real smooth in the morning,” Coppinger said Wednesday. “There have been commissioners that have made calls to the finance office. We’ve talked to a couple of people, but it’s just points of clarification, not any points of concern.”

Former commissioner asks state to look into campaign reports (NS/Donila)

University of Tennessee professor Mark Harmon on Wednesday asked the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance to launch an investigation into a number of questionable campaign finance statements filed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. In an email to the bureau’s executive director, Drew Rawlins, the former county commissioner cites a number of recent News Sentinel articles that detail accounting discrepancies in the mayor’s campaign reports.

Memphis suburban commissioners lodge objections to lawsuit (CA/Connolly)

Toward the end of a lengthy public meeting Monday, Shelby County Commissioners disappeared into a break room with attorneys for an update on the school board litigation. They came out, and there was no public vote. The next day, the attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging the scheduled Aug. 2 referendums in six suburbs. Now, conflicting accounts are emerging about what happened in the closed meeting. Suburban commissioners argue that it wasn’t proper, and conflict could complicate an already complex legal case involving the school merger.

Clear as Mud (Memphis Flyer)

The Shelby County Election Commission is under attack in some quarters, under suspicion in various others, and understood hardly at all in the explanations it has given out regarding several gaffes and mysteries arising from its supervision of the election process this year. Let me posit right away: I do not regard any member of the election commission — chairman Robert Meyers, Steve Stamson, and Dee Nollner among the Republicans; Norma Lester and George Monger, the Democrats — as being anything less than intelligent, dedicated, and honest public servants.

Commissioners to vote on $442M budget Friday (Daily News Journal)

The Rutherford County Commission will vote Friday on adopting its next fiscal year budget without a property tax increase. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. Friday in the second-floor courtroom of the Courthouse on Murfreesboro’s Public Square. “I think we put together a good budget and stayed within our means without a tax increase,” said Commissioner Joe Frank Jernigan, who is one of the seven who reviewed the spending plans as members of the commission’s Budget, Finance & Investment Committee.

Victoria Jackson Endorses Zelenik For Congress (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A former Saturday Night Live star has endorsed a Republican primary challenger running for Congress in Tennessee. While Victoria Jackson might be remembered for her stint on SNL in the late ’80s and early ’90s, she’s since rebranded herself as a conservative commentator. Today Jackson threw her support behind Lou Ann Zelenik, who hopes to unseat Gallatin Republican Diane Black in this summer’s GOP primary. Both Jackson and Zelenik have been outspoken critics of a mosque in Murfreesboro expanding to a larger facility.

Michelle Obama visits Nashville and Memphis (CA/Locker, Patterson)

First lady Michelle Obama will split her time in Tennessee between the state’s two largest cities Thursday, speaking to about 10,000 delegates at the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s conference in Nashville before heading to a Memphis fundraising event for her husband’s re-election campaign in the afternoon. Obama was last in Tennessee April 17, when she addressed a fundraiser in Nashville that garnered more than $200,000 for her husband’s campaign.

TVA says tree removal needed for safety (Tennessean/Gang)

The Tennessee Valley Authority is cutting down trees. Lots of them. Along 16,000 miles of transmission lines in seven states. And not everyone is pleased about it. There’s a federal lawsuit challenging the move and city councils and county commissions in East Tennessee have asked TVA to reconsider its tree-cutting policy. But TVA officials say they must keep the rights of way for their power lines clear to avoid outages and comply with federal regulations. It’s a matter of safety, and TVA officials are in the midst of an outreach campaign to inform the public about the tree-removal work.

Weirdly wonderful: ORNL reactor’s role sometimes veers from norm (NS/Munger)

The High Flux Isotope Reactor has been a research workhorse since the 1960s, reliably producing radioisotopes for medicine and industry and generating a bountiful stream of neutrons for science experiments that explore the very essence of materials. But the Oak Ridge reactor also has a wild and crazy side and occasionally gets called upon for unusual tasks, such as determining whether POTUS No. 12 was poisoned or helping the Mars candy folks get the desired crunch out of their new Pretzel M&M’s.

Political group wants charter schools out of segregation case (Tennessean/Young)

A pro-charter schools political action group filed an amicus brief Tuesday asking a federal judge to leave charter schools out of an ongoing racial segregation case against Metro Nashville Public Schools. The brief, filed the same day that the Metro School Board approved two new charters — KIPP Academy and Purpose Prep — says that because charter schools are separate and independent entities apart from Metro Schools, they should not be included in any decision rendered in the ongoing case of Spurlock vs. Fox, which went to bench trial last month.

Shelby County suburbs feel boxed out of school debate again (C. Appeal/Bailey)

The lawsuit seeking to block the Aug. 2 referendums on municipal schools could result in the third time suburban residents have been unable to voice their opinion in the ever-changing landscape of public education in Shelby County. And suburban leaders haven’t been participants in the legal wrangling either since they are not parties in the lawsuit involving the school situation. A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the County Commission jeopardizes the scheduled Aug. 2 referendums.

School Board Moves Toward Superintendent Pick (Memphis Daily News)

At the start of another five-hour countywide school board meeting Tuesday, June 26, Jim Boyd of the schools consolidation planning commission set the stage for a busy night on several fronts. “We are at the end,” he said of the planning commission’s job of drafting a blueprint for the schools merger to come. “But this is literally the beginning of the work.” Hours earlier in Memphis federal court, attorneys for the Shelby County Commission filed a pair of legal motions that mark the beginning of a new round of complexity in an already complex chain of events that include but aren’t limited to the merger.

Florida: Judge Sides With Florida on Purging Voter Rolls (New York Times)

A federal judge on Wednesday rebuffed the Department of Justice’s emergency request to stop Florida’s attempt to remove people who are not American citizens from its voter registration rolls. Judge Robert L. Hinkle of United States District Court in Tallahassee said federal laws did not bar the state from identifying and removing ineligible voters from its rolls, though the Aug. 14 primary is less than 90 days away. The laws, Judge Hinkle said, are to block the removal of legitimate voters: people lawfully registered to vote before being eligible for removal, like felons or the deceased.

South Carolina: House Panel to Hear Ethics Complaints Against Governor (NYT)

Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina has drawn political fire from both major political parties since the moment she took office in 2011. Thursday, she faces a State House ethics hearing over whether she blurred the lines between her work as a legislator and her work as a hospital fund-raiser and a business development consultant with an engineering firm. From the Republican governor’s perspective, the hearing is just more of the same: attacks by Democrats and the Republican Party old guard who resent her Tea Party-style efforts to change government and the fact that she is a woman and a minority in a state that has had relatively few of either in positions of power.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Public school improvement slowly gains momentum (Jackson Sun)

Changing the direction of a big ship doesn’t come easily and it takes time. The new course heading for Tennessee public education appears to be gaining momentum. The state received good news this week that, for the second year in a row, public school student test scores are up statewide. It is news worth celebrating. But then it must be back to work to sustain this momentum. Charting a new course for Tennessee public education began early in 2010 when then Gov. Phil Bredesen called a special session of the General Assembly to pass education reform legislation.

Editorial: Tennessee legislators should leave immigration issue alone (C. Appeal)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this week in the Arizona immigration law case should send a message to Tennessee’s legislators that they should stop trying to pass similar legislation. The Arizona crackdown on illegal immigrants was considered one of the toughest in the nation. A divided court Monday threw out major parts of the law, but unanimously approved the law’s most talked-about provision, which required police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. That, many feel, will lead to ethnic profiling, in which law enforcement officers look for reasons to pull over a motorist, just to check his or her immigration status.

Editorial: Immigration too complex for simple court ruling (Daily News Journal)

The United States Supreme Court ruled earlier this week, 5-3, that three portions of SB 1070, the Arizona bill concerning illegal immigration, were unconstitutional. At the same time, the high court upheld one major provision. The three sections that were struck down would have made it illegal for an immigrant to not be carrying papers. It also would have made warrantless arrests acceptable in some circumstances and would have forbidden illegal immigrants from working in Arizona. Ruled constitutional is a provision that would allow an officer to take steps to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there is reasonable suspicion that the person may be in the state illegally.

Joe Sullivan: State Funding Needed For Online Student Tests (Metro Pulse)

There’s a lot to be said for having grade school students take their annual assessments online rather than on paper. Online test results can be processed and disseminated much more rapidly so teachers and parents don’t have to wait until after the start of the next school year to know how their students fared, as is the case with the TCAP assessments now in use in Tennessee. Moreover, online tests can be more engaging and measure a wider range of cognitive skills than the purely multiple-choice questions to which paper tests are confined. And then there’s the green advantage of avoiding the use of tons of paper that must be transported first to every school and then to central scoring sites.

Bill Ketron: Session for higher ed ‘reeks’ of election politics (Daily News Journal)

Having a daughter in college, I can strongly attest that we all care about the rising costs of a college education. I am very concerned about the number of students that have gone into debt to pay for a college education. I am equally as concerned about those who have gone into debt and have not completed their degree or do not complete their education within the desired four-year timeline. Continuing education into a fifth or sixth year and beyond greatly adds to the problem of student debt. It is a matter that needs to be addressed if we are going to increase the number of graduates from Tennessee’s colleges and universities.

Jack Neely: Lakeshore’s Superintendent Talks About His Unusual Campus (MP)

Lee Thomas is a thin, courtly gentleman whose office has a grand Victorian fireplace and one of the best views in Knoxville. He’ll enjoy it for only a few more days. He’s the last superintendent of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute on Lyons View, which closes forever on June 30, after operating there, by various other names, since Grover Cleveland’s first term. Thomas’ corner office is on the second floor of the administration building, the old brick building with castellated ramparts suitable for archers. It’s all that remains of what once looked like a long castle, with turrets and parapets.

Editorial: State scrutiny of Burchett’s finances justified (News-Sentinel)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was elected in large measure because he was seen as a fiscally responsible official. Revelations about irregularities in his campaign finances, coupled with his bungled attempt to hire a friend to be finance director, undermine that reputation and raise questions about his judgment. Now a former Knox County commissioner, Mark Harmon, has asked for a formal investigation into Burchett’s election financing. Harmon’s request is justified and the state should act upon it, and Burchett should welcome the scrutiny.

Wendi C. Thomas: Unified school board race most important on August ballot (CA)

If you remember how few elected officials set in motion the union of the Shelby County and Memphis City schools, you’ll be at the polls Aug. 2. But voters’ short memories paired with apathy never equals good turnout. So consider this a reminder: The upcoming unified school board race is “one of the most important elections in Memphis history.” That’s according to the nonpartisan Coalition for a Better Memphis, which on Thursday will interview the board candidates.

Editorial: Bill offers energy efficiency that businesses can afford (Tennessean)

We hear it all the time: If businesses and government would use less energy, they would save money. That’s just common sense. But energy-efficiency improvements cost money. In the case of government, that money comes from you, the taxpayer. There is a way to do it, though, without reaching into the taxpayer’s pocket. With Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs), government can: • Finance improvements upfront and pay off the debt with money saved on energy bills. • Get a guarantee from companies contracted to do the work that energy savings will result — making the projects attractive to lenders. • Support jobs.

 

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: “Party of Lincoln” (Times Free-Press)

 

Editorial: The Deal on Student Loans (New York Times)

At the last minute, like everything else in Congress, a bipartisan Senate deal fell into place on Tuesday to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling on July 1. Now it is up to the House to quickly approve the measure and ensure that students struggling with the economy will not incur extra debt. The deadline was hardly a shock. It was set by Congress in 2007 when it allowed interest rates on Stafford loans to fall to 3.4 percent from 6.8 percent over five years. But the usual fight occurred over how to pay for the loan subsidies because Republicans insist on offsets for everything except tax cuts for the rich.

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