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July 18 TN News Digest

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

Haslam visits TriCities; focus on learning, preparing students for careers (WJHL)

“Jobs are going begging in this struggling economy…and we need to fix that.” That was Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s message today at Northeast State Community College, where the governor met with area business leaders and educators. The governor’s question: how can the state government help local employers get the employees they need? 11 Connects Melissa Hipolit explores that need, and one local employers suggestions.

Tennessee Republican upset at NRA ambush of GOP members (Times-News)

Tennessee Republican lawmakers are upset by a massive gun lobby attempt to ambush a Middle Tennessee lawmaker’s re-election bid, three top state government leaders said Tuesday. Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are backing House GOP Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, who’s in the crosshairs of the National Rifle Association and Tennessee Firearms Association. The two gun rights groups are going after Maggart, R-Hendersonville, over her actions involving the so-called “Safe Commute” bill that would have allowed gun permit-carrying employees to store their weapon in a locked car on company property.

Gov. Haslam responds to claims ‘he’s not conservative enough’ (WCYB-TV)

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam is taking some heat on claims that he’s not conservative enough. At least two chapters of the Tennessee Republican Party are condemning the Republican for hiring gay people, Democrats, and a Muslim. News 5 asked the governor about these claims, he told us a recent poll said 80 percent of conservative republicans approve of the job he’s doing. “My job as governor is to focus on brining jobs to Tennessee, making sure we have a great education system, and making certain we’re providing great value, and that’s kind of thing I think most Tennesseans want me to focus on,” Haslam said.

Haslam weighs health law as poor risk falling into gap (AP/Alonso-Zaldivar)

For Gov. Rick Perry, saying “no” to the federal health-care law also could mean turning away up to 1.3 million Texans, nearly half the uninsured people who could be newly eligible for coverage in his state. Gov. Chris Christie not only would be saying “no” to President Barack Obama, but to as many as 245,000 uninsured New Jersey residents as well. Gov. Bill Haslam continues to weigh his options about whether to lay out a welcome mat for as many as 100,000 uninsured who might qualify for TennCare.

State Begins Process of Shaping Health Care Exchange Plans (WPLN-Radio)

Now that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld, Tennessee is rushing to create an insurance exchange. It would be a way for those without coverage through their job to get reasonably priced insurance. On Tuesday, state officials started taking input on what those plans should include, like treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and drug addiction. Representatives of advocacy groups filled a Vanderbilt lecture hall to ask that their respective cause be covered. Many share a concern about hearing aids.

Tennessee sales tax holiday set for Aug. 3-5 (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee’s seventh annual sales tax holiday is scheduled for Aug. 3-5, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue. During the designated three-day weekend, consumers will not pay state or local sales tax on clothing with a price of $100 or less per item, school and art supplies with a price of $100 or less per item and computers with a price of $1,500 or less. “As in years past, last year’s tax-free weekend was very successful, providing Tennessee taxpayers nearly $9.6 million in tax savings,” Richard Roberts, revenue commissioner for Tennessee, said in a statement.

State to distribute devices to the deaf, blind (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Regulatory Authority will participate in a national pilot program distributing communication devices to low income deaf-blind citizens. The agency has been awarded an annual grant of $189,000 from the Federal Communications Commission to implement the project. TRA chairman Kenneth Hill said the program enhances a similar one already under way in the state. The TRA sets rates and service standards for privately owned utilities in Tennessee.

TBI reviews deputy’s shooting of man (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Bradbury)

No charges have been filed in the shooting of a Bradley County man by a sheriff’s deputy. Bill Forgey, 37, was shot once in the neck Monday night after he refused commands to stop stabbing a female passenger in his vehicle, according to Kristin Helm, spokeswoman with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He was taken to SkyRidge Medical Center in Cleveland, where he was listed in critical condition, she said. The TBI is reviewing the shooting, which is standard procedure when a deputy uses deadly force.

Rock slide closes SR 840 in Williamson County (Gannett)

A rock slide occurred on State Route 840 at Arno Road around noon today in Williamson County, according to the Department of Transportation. Eastbound traffic is affected with roadway closed. Westbound traffic is affected with the roadway partially blocked. Motorists are advised to find alternate routes and are being rerouted at the scene. TDOT crews are working to clear the road, according to the Community Relations officer Deanna Lambert. The estimated clearing is 4 p.m.

Local lottery sales remain strong (Johnson City Press)

Win or lose, people are still playing the odds when it comes to the Tennessee Lottery, knowing up front that their chances of winning are slim. According to a news release from the Tennessee Lottery website Tuesday, ticket sales are once again booming with $323.4 million raised for state education programs, which is a 10.2 percent increase from last year. John Kelly, chief operating officer with Mountain Empire Oil and Roadrunner Markets, said lottery sales, other than big jackpot numbers, usually remain pretty consistent, depending largely on individual customer preferences.

TN will seek death penalty in Cocke County slayings (Associated Press)

The state has announced it will seek the death penalty against both suspects in a Cocke County triple killing. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported prosecutors filed notice on Tuesday, stating that if 30-year-old Marsha Gail Shelton is convicted in the killings of a couple and their toddler, capital punishment will be sought. District Attorney Jimmy Dunn filed similar notice Monday against Shelton’s co-defendant, 43-year-old Adam L. Edwards. Shelton and Edwards are charged in the deaths of Sherman Ellison, Terri Henderson and their 2-year-old son, Riley.

State to seek death penalty in Cocke Co. murders (Bristol Herald-Courier)

The state will seek the death penalty in a Cocke County Tennessee triple killing. Prosecutors filed notice that they intend to seek the death penalty if 43-year-old Adam Edwards and 29-year-old Marsha Gail Shelton are convicted. The two are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Sherman Ellison, Terri Henderson and their 2-year-old son, Riley. The victims’ bodies were found in their burned-out mobile home May 26th. District Attorney Jimmy Dunn declined to reveal how the victims were killed.

Shelby County voters face glitches (Associated Press)

Memphis mayor ‘aggravated’ by problem Early voting in Shelby County has turned up some problems with local school district referendums. Six cities within the county have ballot issues about whether to establish municipal school systems instead of being part of the combining Memphis and Shelby County public schools. Early voting began Friday, and Election Day is Aug. 2. The Commercial Appeal reported a problem cropped up in Collierville where the county election commission failed to include people from 568 homes that were annexed in December.

Memphis City Council hears annexation will bring city a budget surplus (CA/Maki)

Confusion reigned over the city’s annexation of South Cordova on Tuesday, as the administration of Mayor A C Wharton and the City Council produced conflicting numbers for the cost of the move. The Wharton administration said the annexation would produce a budget deficit of $108,371 in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the same day the annexation became official. That prompted a council committee to ask Wharton to find funds for the annexation in the current budget as opposed to dipping into the city’s reserve fund as Wharton had requested.

Memphis will ask voters to consider sales tax hike (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The City Council on Tuesday agreed to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to raise the local sales tax and advanced a proposed gas tax referendum toward a final vote. The sales tax referendum, proposed by councilman Shea Flinn and supported by Mayor A C Wharton, asks voters to increase the city’s local-option sales tax to 2.75 percent, up from the current 2.25 percent. Flinn said the increase could bring in as much as $47 million annually, and could be used to decrease the property tax rate, fund public safety operations, improve infrastructure and fight blight.

Council Sends Sales Tax Hike To November Ballot (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Council members added a half percent local option sales tax hike proposal to the Nov. 6 ballot in Memphis at their Tuesday, July 17, meeting. The council approved the referendum ordinance on third and final reading. And a proposed one-cent gasoline tax with revenue going to the Memphis Area Transit Authority was approved on the second of three readings. If approved on third reading next month, that proposal would also go to Memphis voters on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Lucy residents can’t vote on referendums, Election Commission says (CA/Wolff)

The referendums related to a Millington municipal school district were removed from Lucy residents’ ballots Tuesday by the Shelby County Election Commission. The school referendums appeared on Lucy voters’ ballots on Monday, the first day of early voting in the suburbs. They were removed Tuesday on advice from the Election Commission’s attorney, said Richard Holden, administrator of elections. Millington’s annexation of the small community was halted last week after Claiborne Ferguson, a resident of Lucy and a Memphis attorney, filed a lawsuit objecting to the plan.

Chattanooga sewer bill hits $250 million (Times Free-Press/Hightower, Sohn)

A $250 million bill now looms for anyone who uses the Chattanooga sewer system, and they will have 15 years to pay it. Ratepayers across Chattanooga, Hamilton County and North Georgia will shoulder the burden of a $251 million-plus agreement city officials have made with federal regulators to fix a sewer system that has dumped more than 354 million gallons of raw sewage into the Tennessee River since 2005. “We all want clean water,” Mayor Ron Littlefield said. “It takes a price for clean water.”

Nashville farmers allowed to have roadside stands (Tennessean/Cass)

A quirk in Metro’s zoning code was erased Tuesday by council members, who took action to let farmers sell their goods to the public from roadside stands. The council unanimously approved legislation allowing farmers in agricultural zoning districts to make sales from temporary farm stands erected on their property. Such sales had been prohibited because they were considered a retail land use, which is allowed only in commercially zoned areas.

New Hamilton County prayer policy spurs confusion (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Hamilton County commissioners still are ironing out their new prayer policy with speakers now scheduled through the end of November — and there’s already one disgruntled minister. Universal Life Church Minister Eddie Bridges called the commission office Tuesday to confirm what time he was to show up to give an invocation today. Instead, the commission’s schedule showed Temple Baptist Church’s Shad Smith in today’s slot.

Goodbyes get harder: Tennessee troops prepare for tour in Afghanistan (CA/Duvall)

As the Warren family walked arm-in-arm out of the National Guard Armory near the Memphis airport Tuesday, they hoped it’d be the last time they’d have to say goodbye. After 30 years in the military, Staff Sgt. Johnny Warren’s retirement is in sight, but not before one more deployment. Married to the staff sergeant for 19 years, Elizabeth Warren has seen her husband leave twice before — for Iraq in 2005-06 and for Kosovo in 2007-08 — but this has been the hardest time to say goodbye yet.

Gloomy Forecast for States, Even if Economy Rebounds (New York Times)

The fiscal crisis for states will persist long after the economy rebounds as they confront rising health care costs, underfunded pensions, ignored infrastructure needs, eroding revenues and expected federal budget cuts, according to a report issued here Tuesday by a task force of respected budget experts. The problems facing states are often masked by lax budget laws and opaque accounting practices, according to the report, an independent analysis of six large states released by the State Budget Crisis Task Force.

Recommendations for State and National Policy Makers (New York Times)

An independent task force on the long-term fiscal problems facing states warned Tuesday that “if these problems are not addressed soon, they are likely to worsen” and made a series of recommendations for policy makers at the state and national levels. Their recommendations included: Coordination with the federal government. There is a disconnect between the federal government and the states, the report found, and it recommended creating a national body to assess the ways in which federal deficit reduction measures or changes in federal tax policies will affect states and localities.

Power bills to go down about 2 percent next month (Johnson City Press)

Customers that have experienced higher bills during the high heat of this spring and summer should see some relief in sight when looking at their bills next month. The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Monday wholesale rates will decrease by more than 2 percent in August, which is significantly lower than where rates were a year ago. The total monthly fuel cost for August is 2.287 cents per kilowatt-hour. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the fuel cost rate is 16.5 percent lower than August 2011, which was 2.741 cents per killowatt-hour.

Convention center passes 700,000 room nights booked (Nashville Post)

Spurred by the recent finalization of a multi-year deal with the American Correctional Association, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau announced today that pre-opening sales for the under-construction Music City Center have exceeded 700,000 room nights. The ACA has booked the SoBro-based Music City Center as the site of its annual Congress of Corrections for 2021 and 2024. Davidson County Sheriff and ACA president Daron Hall helped seal that deal, which represents approximately 3,200 attendants and 11,690 room nights.

Music City Center pre-bookings top 700,000 nights (Nashville Business Journal)

Advanced bookings at the Music City Center have topped 730,000 room nights, according to a news release from the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau. The organization has set an internal goal of booking one million room nights for the center before it opens next year. The 731,543 room nights booked so far are for 86 individual meetings, according to a news release. The visitors bureau announced the latest meeting today, a two-year deal with the American Correctional Association.

Contract talks drag on between Memorial, BlueCross BlueShield (TFP/Martin)

BlueCross patients at Memorial Health Care System will not have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for their services even if a new contract isn’t inked before the old one expires on July 31, hospital officials say. Memorial has decided not to charge its patients out-of-network prices no matter what happens in its negotiations with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee over the next two weeks, Memorial spokeswoman Lisa McCluskey said Tuesday. In addition, Memorial doctors working under the Memorial Health Partners Foundation are not affected by the contract dispute because they have an independent contract with BlueCross.

Great Hearts makes charter case; decision expected next week (CP/Garrison)

Great Hearts Academies, a Phoenix-based charter organization rejected twice by the Metro school board, took its case to the state Tuesday, arguing its fate in Nashville should ultimately come down to a simple interpretation of state statute. “The crux of everything goes back to what state law is,” Great Hearts’ attorney Ross Booher told the Tennessee State Board of Education’s executive staff at an appeals hearing on the prior denials at the local level. He added Tennessee law, for example, prohibits “scoring down” a charter application for not focusing on particular groups of students.

Great Hearts’ State Appeal Hinges on Question of Diversity (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

An Arizona-based charter-school operator hoping to expand into Nashville appealed its case to the state Tuesday, after it was rejected by Metro last month. Officials sparred over whether the proposal from Great Hearts Academies will allow for enough student diversity. Great Hearts’ proposal is a test of new state laws allowing privately run, publicly funded charters to serve kids who aren’t necessarily poor or zoned for failing schools. Metro officials say the proposed schools would only be as diverse as the neighborhoods around them.

Jesse Register, school board sued by service employees union (Tennessean/Rau)

The Service Employees International Union filed a lawsuit on Monday against the school board and Director of Schools Jesse Register over the decision to allow the memorandum of understanding with the district’s support staff unions to expire. The suit, which was filed in Chancery Court, alleges that Register and his top staff exceeded their legal responsibility by allowing the memorandum of understanding, which acted as a non-binding document that guided employment policies with support staff, to expire.

Lee board opts to close three elementary schools (Times-News)

Despite overwhelming objections from students, parents, teachers and community residents in attendance, the Lee County School Board voted Tuesday to close three of its elementary campuses through consolidation beginning next school year. The board voted 3-2 on a motion by Michael Twigg, seconded by Don Williams, to adopt the closure plan, with chairwoman Debbie Jessee casting the deciding vote. Kyle Chadwell and Ty Harber cast the two naye votes.

One-pot meth labs making a comeback in Hawkins County (Times-News)

Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said Tuesday that meth is making a comeback in the county because the high number of recent pill trafficking busts has driven up the street price of illegal prescription narcotics. Specifically the faster “one-pot, shake-and-bake” meth lab method is apparently increasing, as is evident by the second bust in less than a week in which several “one-pot” labs were found at a single residence.

Massachusetts: Teen Spirit Spurs Bill to Lower Voting Age (Wall Street Journal)

Upset by budget cuts at their high school, a group of teens in the city of Lowell, Mass., wanted to do more than merely complain about it. They wanted to vote. Now, their initiative to lower the voting age in Lowell municipal elections to 17 from 18 has gained traction at the Massachusetts State House. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would put the question of whether to lower Lowell’s voting age on the 2013 citywide ballot in the working-class community of 106,000 people northwest of Boston.

 

OPINION

 

Free-Press Editorial: Haslam right to hire Muslim (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam is facing a tremendous amount of heat from Republican and tea party activists across the state. No fewer than five resolutions are currently circulating urging the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee to take meaningful action against the Haslam administration. A political organization plans to purchase ads condemning the governor. Some grass-roots activists are even calling for his resignation. His crime? Hiring the most qualified person for a position. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s new international director is from Waverly, a small town just west of Nashville.

Editorial: Governor too soft, GOP radicals say (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Gov. Bill Haslam has committed the unpardonable sin. He has occasionally acted like a moderate. That infuriates the rock-ribbed right, which demands party purity. Anything that can be seen as working with the opposition cannot be tolerated. Nearly identical resolutions, reportedly initiated by Tea Party activists, have been adopted at Republican Party meetings in Stewart and Carroll counties, The Tennessean in Nashville reported.

Gail Kerr: Hate-filled GOP fringe resorts to bullying its own (Tennessean)

The newest political technique of the rightest of the right segment of the Tennessee Grand Old Party: If you can’t beat ’em, bully ’em. The target: anyone with a brain who doesn’t hate people who look, worship or love differently from themselves. That now includes Gov. Bill Haslam, despite the fact he has become one of the most popular Republicans statewide in recent decades. “Political cannibalism is never a good sign,” said Jimmy Leo Richardson III of Smyrna. Republicans now command all the power in Tennessee. They own the governor’s office and the legislature. There is no doubt the state will vote red for Mitt Romney, Haslam’s pick, in November.

Editorial: Teacher evaluation system fails real-life test (Jackson Sun)

In the “be careful what you wish for” department, we note the following: State lawmakers’ much touted teacher evaluation system created under 2010 education reform legislation gets failing marks. Not so much the teachers, mind you, but the evaluation process itself. What this lesson points out is that there is a large gap between coming up with a great idea and implementing one that works. Lawmakers, The Jackson Sun and much of the public cheered in 2010 when new rules were passed calling for teacher evaluations that included classroom observations, factoring in student test scores and using the results to reward good teachers, improve marginal ones and, in theory, get rid of poor teachers.

Times Editorial: The bill for sewage spills (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

City officials have been in negotiations for many months with federal and state regulators to develop a schedule of major improvements in Chattanooga’s sanitary sewer system to help prevent hazardous overflows of raw sewage and meet long-neglected Clean Water Act standards. The consent decree filed on Tuesday in federal court here makes plain the onerous cost of upgrading or separating the area’s combined sewer/stormwater-runoff system: It will cost approximately $250 million, with the most important projects to be accomplished in the next five years.

Times Editorial: Dangerous drought on doorstep (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Don’t be deceived by appearances. The landscape in Chattanooga and the surrounding region might suggest that there has been adequate recent rainfall and that the area’s forests, farms and pasturelands are in good shape. Green prevails for the moment, and the soil appears moist. What you see, though, is misleading. The area, experts agree, is precariously balanced on a line that separates the region from one that is moderately dry and one that is rapidly nearing severe or excessive drought. Without adequate rainfall soon, the latter is a possibility. Rains last week — about three inches here — helped avert what could have been a disaster for farmers, said Kim Frady of the Agricultural Extension Service office in Cleveland, Tenn.

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