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July 20 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to visit Dickson, announce grant (Tennessean/Gadd)

Gov. Bill Haslam will stop at Dickson City Hall on Wednesday to announce that the city is receiving a grant. The governor’s office would not yet say what the grant was for, nor how much. It is believed Haslam will announce the city is receiving a grant for the continuation of the downtown Dickson revitalization project. The city applied for a grant October last year through the Tennessee Department of Transportation Enhancement program. It’s the same grant program used to secure funding for the first phase of downtown enhancement that was completed in November.

Carter is new district attorney (Times-Gazette)

The 17th Judicial District has a new District Attorney General.The office of Gov. Bill Haslam announced that Robert Carter of Fayetteville will replace current 17th Judicial District Attorney General Charles Crawford, who is resigning effective July 31. Crawford announced in March he was leaving the position, saying he was “physically and emotionally drained.” The 17th Judicial District includes Lincoln, Bedford, Marshall and Moore counties.

Haslam Among Govs Who Believe Block Grants Would Improve Obamacare (TNR)

Gov. Bill Haslam was mentioned prominently in a Forbes piece Thursday, after he and four other GOP governors said they would consider an expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care reform law if the money were awarded as a block grant. “Obviously, as a Republican, I’m with those folks who say, if you can block grant us Medicaid, we’d look at it differently,” Haslam said, according to Politico. The governors were at a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association in Virginia.

MGM Industries adding 75 jobs as part of $3M investment (Nashville Biz Journal)

Hendersonville-based MGM Industries is adding 75 jobs, part of a $3 million expansion, the company announced today. MGM, which employs 218 people, manufactures vinyl windows and doors. MGM will receive a $30,000 state grant for job training. The additional jobs — in production, engineering and maintenance — will be added over three years. “We have positioned our company for the future by making a $1 million capital investment to painted vinyl windows and doors,” Joe Gaskins, vice president of sales for MGM Industries, said in a news release.

Hendersonville Manufacturer Betting on Construction Rebound (WPLN-Radio)

A window and door manufacturer in Hendersonville is betting on a construction comeback. MGM industries will add 75 jobs over the next three years. Vice president Joe Gaskins says the company’s best year for it’s pre-framed windows and doors was 2006. He says he never thought it would take so long for a turnaround to begin, but it has. And not with new homes, which was once the company’s bread and butter. “People have to have a place to live. That’s why the apartment sector has gone up so much over the last two to three years, and that’s been the strong sector.”

More than 20K Voter IDs Issued in Primary Election Run-Up (TN Report)

State officials say some 21,000 voters have picked up new photo IDs from the state’s DMV centers in the last year, leading up to elections that begin as early as this month. Next month’s primary election is one of the first major tests of a law legislators crafted last year to require anyone casting a ballot to show state or federal government-issued photo identification to vote. Early voting began last week. The voter ID requirements are popular among four out of five Tennesseans surveyed earlier this year.

State Jobless Rate in June Rises by 0.2 Percent (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate rose 0.2 percent in June to 8.1 percent. Karla Davis, commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development, said Thursday the June figure was the highest since January. But it was substantially below the 9.4 percent in June a year ago. Government and educational services combined declined by 17,400 jobs. After seasonal adjustments, total jobs (excluding agriculture) decreased by 12,100. The national jobless rate for June was 8.2 percent. Tennessee has been below the national figure for six months.

TN jobless rate rises to 8.1 percent (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate climbed back above 8 percent in June, hinting at a possible stall in job growth and economic recovery. An estimated 8.1 percent of the state’s workforce was jobless last month, up from 7.9 percent in May, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said. June was the second consecutive month that the state’s rate had risen, and the rate was at its highest level since January. It was below last month’s national rate of 8.2 percent, though.

Unemployment up in Tennessee, Georgia (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Unemployment rose last month across Tennessee and Georgia as the slowing recovery cut the number of jobs in both states during June. With school out for the summer and state budget cuts trimming other public sector jobs, government employment fell in the two states by 26,100 jobs during June. That pushed up the jobless rate in Tennessee by two-tenths of a percent from May to 8.1 percent last month, just a fraction under the stable 8.2 percent national unemployment rate for June.

Tennessee jobless rate rose to 8.1 percent in June (Commercial Appeal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent in June, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development reported Thursday. That represents a two-tenths of a percentage point gain from the revised rate of 7.9 percent in May. It’s the highest the state’s unemployment rate has been since January 2012. Total jobs, excluding agriculture, fell by 12,100, the state said. A loss of 17,400 jobs in government and education services more than offset gains in private-sector jobs.

Tennessee unemployment up for second month (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate again increased in June, marking the second-consecutive month that employment moved in the wrong direction. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased to 8.1 percent, up from the revised May rate of 7.9 percent. Unemployment was also up in May, when the rate jumped from 7.7 percent in April, the first increase in the state’s unemployment since November 2010.

State’s June jobless rate rises to 8.1% (Nashville Post)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June was 8.1 percent, up from the May revised rate of 7.9 percent, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis announced today. The national unemployment rate for June 2012 was 8.2 percent, unchanged from the May rate. Other items the department released today: * Tennessee’s rate has remained below the national unemployment rate for six months. * Tennessee’s June figure of 8.1 percent is the highest rate since January 2012 but below the June rate of 9.4 percent in 2011.

Tax-free holiday may be a wash (Tennessean/Ward)

With Kentucky’s sales tax rate only 6 percent compared with more than 9 percent in Tennessee, Deborah Jenkins does most of her shopping close to home in Bowling Green, Ky. But during the first weekend in August, Jenkins plans to be in Nashville buying clothes and shoes for her three school-age children. The draw is Tennessee’s sales tax holiday, during which purchases of many types of clothing, computers and school-related supplies are exempt from state and local sales taxes.

Officials hope drivers heed warning on signs, drive more carefully (TFP/Bunn)

Five hundred forty-four. That’s the number of deaths so far this year on Tennessee roads, according to signs towering over Interstate 75. The fatalities signs, which debuted on April 30, are a collaboration between the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the state Department of Safety and the Tennessee Highway Patrol to educate people about the dangers of driving, especially driving under the influence and seatbelt safety. Chattanooga resident Grace Mullaney said seeing the signs on the highway was “jarring.”

State grant to help children of people in jail (Associated Press)

State prison officials will award a $250,000 grant Friday in Nashville to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Amachi initiative. The program works to provide mentors for the children of incarcerated parents. According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Correction, the initiative is designed to break the intergenerational cycle of crime and incarceration and gives an often forgotten group of children the chance to reach their highest potential. The money was included in the state budget.

New scam targets utility payments (Times-Gazette)

Have you been contacted by someone claiming to be from your utility company, promising the U.S. government will aid your payments through specially approved funds? The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Division of Consumer Affairs warns utility consumers to be on guard: Your personal information is at risk. Consumers that are contacted are being advised to provide Social Security numbers. Once a consumer provides this information, a bank account number is given, supposedly to fund payments.

Mike Jameson leaves job as interim judge (Tennessean/Allyn, Rau)

Mike Jameson’s brief tenure as a General Sessions judge has ended prematurely. With little fanfare, Jameson earlier this month took an unpaid leave of absence through the Aug. 2 election to assist his former law partner Phillip North’s bid for state Senate. Despite earlier statements after he lost the March primary that he would continue to serve as judge through August, Jameson now says his allegiance is with his former colleague. “He’s in the thick of his race right now, and he needed help,” Jameson said of North’s Senate run.

2012 vote a fight for Tennessee business (Nashville Business Journal)

GOP controls state, but agenda still in play The 2010 Republican landslide was key for business interests in Tennessee: After decades of massaging Democrats while rooting for the other guys, they got what they wanted. They pursued landmark legislation — tort reform, an unemployment overhaul, tax repeals — on a scale previously only imagined, and snuffed out emerging threats. Now, state government is in play again, but the game has changed. The broad expectation among observers, business advocates and high-ranking politicians alike is that those muscular GOP majorities will widen in November.

Obesity group fights for health (Tennessean/Dean)

The group leading the charge in getting Tennesseans fit and healthy is moving forward with plans for the next legislative session. It’s inviting people interested in the challenge to share ideas on new laws that could make a difference. Joan A. Randall, executive director of the Tennessee Obesity Task Force, points out that obesity causes several chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and asthma. Southern states have higher rates of obesity, especially in African-Americans and Hispanics.

Greg Vital denies sending mailer about foe (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Republican state Senate candidate Greg Vital categorically denied sending voters incomplete and potentially damaging information about his opponent two days after saying he had “no idea” whether his campaign was responsible. “We are setting the record straight on these issues to end this ridiculous discussion here and now,” Vital spokesman Rob Alderman said in a news release. “Neither Greg nor anyone associated with this campaign had anything to do with the mailing of those public documents.”

Murfreesboro mosque opening 2 weeks away (Tennessean)

Tennessee Muslims who won a court battle to occupy their new mosque learned Thursday they won’t be able to begin worshipping there for the start of Ramadan because it needs about two weeks more of construction work. Rutherford County Muslims will begin celebrating Ramadan at old facility “We are going to do the breaking the fast and night prayers in the existing building,” said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “What else can we do?”

Murfreesboro Mosque Hopes to Open Before Ramadan Ends (WPLN-Radio)

A new mosque in Tennessee will not be open in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday night, because it still has to pass codes inspections. Even so, members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro are glad the process is underway, thanks to a last-minute order in federal court. Construction isn’t quite done at the new mosque – one official says they still have to hang exit signs over doors, and get the fire marshal to check the sprinkler system.

Tennessee: More Delays for Permitting of Mosque (New York Times)

An Islamic group that has faced lawsuits, vandalism and anti-Muslim threats will not be able to move into its new mosque in Murfreesboro this week as planned, its leaders said Thursday. Members had hoped to move in for the holy month of Ramadan as it began this week. But the mosque’s opening will be delayed until it passes a building inspection and gets its occupancy permit. For two years, construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s 12,000-square-foot mosque has been a heated issue in the central Tennessee city.

TN congressmen say missing word in health law may give states an out (TN/Barton)

The Supreme Court ruling may be out, but two Tennessee members of Congress contend crucial legal questions concerning the health-care reform law remain. Because the high court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act still was pending at the time, a bill that Reps. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, and Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, introduced in late June didn’t get much attention initially. But now it is, as critics of the health law continue to recoil in shock over Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to side with the court’s liberal wing to uphold the law and its individual mandate.

Frist calls for state health insurance exchanges (Associated Press)

Former Senate Majority Leader and heart surgeon Bill Frist is calling on states to get going on their health insurance exchanges. The exchanges are part of the Affordable Care Act and some Republican governors who oppose the law are refusing to set them up. The Tennessee Republican writes in an opinion piece for The Week magazine that the idea for state exchanges originated with the GOP. He calls them innovative and market-driven. Frist says that the exchanges will insure more people, who will then be more likely to seek life-saving health care.

Lou Ann Zelenik misses deposition; lawyer says she had permission (TN/Sisk)

Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik failed to appear last week for a legal deposition, but her attorney said she had permission not to be there. Still, lawyers for a Middle Tennessee newspaper publisher have asked a Wilson County judge to weigh a criminal contempt charge after Zelenik did not turn up July 12 to testify in a suit involving the paper’s finances. Chancellor C.K. Smith responded to the skipped appointment by signing an order requiring Zelenik to appear in court in September to face a potential criminal contempt charge.

Zelenik Charged with Contempt (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik is facing charges of criminal contempt for allegedly not complying with a subpoena. According to court documents, the Murfreesboro Republican was instructed to report for a deposition on July 12th. The day prior, her attorney asked to reschedule, saying the candidate had forgotten to include the appointment on her schedule and was too busy campaigning to do it this month, anyway. When he wasn’t able to change the date, her attorney filed a motion to quash the subpoena.

Zelenik ordered to appear on criminal contempt charges (N. Post/Whitehouse)

Republican congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik has been ordered to appear in Wilson County Chancery Court in September on charges of criminal contempt — and this has nothing do to with Muslims or mosques. The charge stems from Zelenik’s failure to appear for a deposition in a lawsuit between State Sen. Mae Beavers and Kathryn Belle of the Macon County Chronicle. That case revolves around whether a $50,000 check issued by Beavers was a loan or an investment used to purchase the newspaper.

Legal Battles Erupt Over Tough Voter ID Laws (New York Times)

Four years ago as Viviette Applewhite, now 93, was making her way through her local Acme supermarket, her pocketbook hanging from her shoulder, a thief sliced the bag from its straps. A former hotel housekeeper, Ms. Applewhite, who never had a driver’s license, was suddenly without a Social Security card. Adopted and twice married, she had several name changes over the years, so obtaining new documents was complicated. As a result, with Pennsylvania now requiring a state-approved form of photo identification to vote, Ms. Applewhite, a supporter of President Obama, may be forced to sit out November’s election for the first time in decades.

ORNL says new wood-burning steam plant will pay for itself (N-S/Munger)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s new Biomass Steam Plant was four years in the making, one of the longest of the lab’s many modernization projects over the past decade. But it’s supposed to pay dividends — saving money and being gentle on the environment — for the next quarter century and perhaps beyond. The new steam plant burns waste wood chips from local sources to produce 60,000 pounds of steam per hour, which is about half of the lab’s requirements on the coldest winter day.

Erlanger ranks high in U.S. News evaluation (Times Free-Press/Martin)

The latest U.S. News and World Report hospitals ranking released this week names Erlanger Health System as sixth in the state in their “Best Regional Hospital” rankings, which looks at a wide number of factors including patient survival rates, safety rates, nurse-to-patient ratios and a hospital’s reputation. Ten other hospitals in Tennessee made the “best regional” list out of more than 150 hospitals in the state. Erlanger was also recognized for seven high-performing specialties — neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, diabetes and endocrinology, pulmonology, gastroenterology and nephrology.

Dean’s letter to state board on Great Hearts surprises some (City Paper/Garrison)

Mayor Karl Dean’s letter asking the Tennessee State Board of Education to approve Great Hearts Academies’ Nashville charter proposal — and undo a decision of the local school board in his government — has raised eyebrows among some Metro officials. “I’m surprised that the mayor would send a letter asking the state to overturn a decision made by our local school board,” At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard told The City Paper. Maynard, who opposes the controversial Great Hearts charter proposal, said the council doesn’t want the “state coming in and meddling in our business, and overturning policies that we pass,” a principle of local autonomy he said should extend to the school board.

Millington not out of municipal school district fight (Commercial Appeal/Wolff)

Millington may have some students absent in its quest for a municipal school district, but the city isn’t counting its latest setback involving the Lucy community as a failure. Mayor Linda Carter told the nearly 50 citizens who attended a special called meeting Thursday night of the Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen that overcoming obstacles will make the city stronger and not dampen its resolve to be one of the six suburbs operating a municipal school district. Millington was four days shy of completing the annexation of the Lucy community when a lawsuit was filed by a Lucy resident who claimed the annexation was illegal and improper.

Lucy Votes Won’t Count In Millington Elections (Memphis Daily News)

The votes of citizens in the Lucy area near Millington on the municipal school district issue or in Millington elections for mayor and the board of aldermen will not count because the recent annexation of the area is on hold. That’s what Millington City Attorney Barbara Lapides advised the city’s mayor and board of aldermen Thursday, July 19. Her advice came after last week’s quo warranto lawsuit filed against the city in Shelby County Chancery Court by attorney Claiborne H. Ferguson.

Odom: Four-year-old guidelines for Muslim students was not a demand (DNJ)

Dozens of Rutherford County residents filled the Board of Education’s meeting room Thursday evening after learning county school officials had received an email — nearly four years ago — about guidelines for dealing with children of the Muslim faith. The issue has been making rounds on a Nashville radio show hosted by Michael DelGiorno on WTN 997. Kevin Fisher, a county schools parent and plaintiff in a lawsuit regarding the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, called the email “inappropriate.”

Probe leads to arrests, meth lab seizure (Jackson Sun)

The Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics Unit conducted an investigation this week that led to the arrest of three people and the seizure of a methamphetamine lab in Crockett County. The pseudoephedrine diversion investigations on Tuesday were performed in cooperation with local pharmacies to target people purchasing pseudoephedrine products for the purpose of manufacturing meth, according to a news release. Pseudoephedrine is the primary ingredient in decongestant cold medicines that have to be purchased through a pharmacy and not over-the-counter, authorities said.

Oregon: Towns Cut Costs by Sending Work Next Door (Wall Street Journal)

Oregon Counties Join a National Trend, Handle Local 911 Calls, Tax Collection This town of 8,000 residents has found a way to trim its troubled budget: outsource city-hall jobs to a nearby county government. In 2008, Molalla spent $507,973 on employee salaries and other expenses to handle its building permits, inspections and other construction red tape. In the fiscal year ended June 2012, it spent less than $150,000 for that work. Molalla did it by finding a subcontractor, much as some corporations contract out to specialists the task of making their products.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: Tennessee can lead the way when economy improves (Jackson Sun)

For many months we have believed that Tennessee is primed for substantial economic growth, and is ready to capitalize on its strengths when the nation’s economy finally catches fire again. A recent report from a national economic development publication ranks Tennessee in the top 10 states in a number of key factors, including being No. 1 in automotive manufacturing strength. Unfortunately, factors outside the control of the state have kept the economy in low gear for three years. Still, we believe Tennessee will be ready when the time comes.

Pam Strickland: GOP shenanigans demand response (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Appalled. Aggrieved. Astounded. It seemed that every word that described my reaction to the latest shenanigans of the extremists in the state Republican Party started with an A. Yet it wasn’t because these folks deserved an A+, unless it was for pure idiocy or the lack of humanity in their souls. As reported by the News Sentinel’s Tom Humphrey, Stewart County Republican Party Chairman Kyle Mallory is upset that Gov. Bill Haslam “hasn’t cleaned house” by firing all Democrats and homosexuals in key state positions, and he has hired a Muslim. Imagine that, a Muslim who knows how to do a job has been hired by the governor because she’s qualified.

Times Editorial: A ruling for tolerance (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Muslims in Middle Tennessee will be allowed to worship in the newly constructed Islamic Center in Murfreesboro after a long and bitter battle to win the right to do so. A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday that permits worshippers to use the mosque. The welcome decision resolves issues that have prevented issuance of a certificate of occupancy required to use the facility. It is unlikely, however, that the judge’s ruling will end the animosity that fueled every discussion about the mosque in the years since congregants first made their desire to build the house of worship known.

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