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July 24 TN News Digest

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

Bill Haslam, Chris Gregoire: Sales Tax Collection Is a Solvable Problem (Roll Call)

Although the two parties in Congress remain torn on many issues, we are hopeful that they can reach bipartisan consensus this year on one issue of great importance to states: leveling the playing field between online retailers and brick-and-mortar businesses that provide jobs and revenue to states across the country. Fortunately, Congress can correct this inequity. The Marketplace Equity Act (H.R. 3179), along with similar bills such as the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 1832), supports the collection of taxes that are already owed to states and local governments, encourages competition and benefits consumers.

House Cmte. Examines Bill to Tax Online Retailers (C-SPAN)

The House Judiciary Committee will consider a bill that would allow states to tax online retailers. Retailers currently pay taxes to states where they have a physical store. The proposed legislation would exempt businesses that don’t make over $500,000 in sales. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, Utah’s State Representative Wayne Harper and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) will be among the witnesses at the hearing, along with online governance specialist Steve DelBianco. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) will chair the hearing.

Haslam Promotes Special Assistant to Chief of Staff (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the promotion of Mark Cate to chief of staff. “This title better represents Mark’s role and the work he does in this administration,” Haslam said. “I appreciate his valuable contribution to our office and am pleased to acknowledge his work in this way.” Cate joined the governor’s staff as special assistant to the governor after leadership roles in the gubernatorial campaign and transition team.

Governor Offers $20,000 Reward for Information on Decatur Co. Arson (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of Decatur County Fire Chief Kenny Fox. “I encourage anyone who knows anything about this case to contact local authorities immediately, and I hope this reward leads to justice for Chief Fox’s family,” Haslam said. On April 7, Fox was killed and two firefighters, Jeremy and Randy Inman, were injured while battling a blaze at the Oak Hill Bar in Parsons.

$20,000 offered for info in fire chief death (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of Decatur County Fire Chief Kenny Fox. On April 7, Fox was killed while battling a blaze at the Oak Hill Bar in Parsons. Investigators determined later that the fire was an act of arson, which made Fox’s death a felony of first-degree murder. Two firefighters were injured.

Tennessee Used as National Education Example (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Tennessee is “Exhibit A” for changes he says treat teachers as professionals rather than “interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line.” Tennessee was one of the first two states chosen to get the federal government’s Race to the Top grant money. As part of the effort to secure those funds, the state made broad changes to the way teachers are evaluated. In an editorial blog posting on the Huffington Post, Duncan acknowledges criticism of the new evaluations while praising the state for seeking feedback and proposing changes that he says address those critiques.

Obama Edu. Chief Praises TN Teacher Eval Reforms (TN Report)

Tennessee’s effort to revamp the way public school teachers are graded on classroom performance earned a high-profile national testimonial Monday. In a column for The Huffington Post, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that the “Tennessee Story” and the Volunteer State’s improvements in student test-scores represents “Exhibit A” in the Obama administration’s defense of the Race to the Top reforms launched in 2009.

Soggy July uncovers surprise underfoot – a 50-foot sinkhole (Tenn/Page, Gang)

After weeks of dry weather, this month may turn out to be the wettest July of all time in Middle Tennessee. Through Sunday, rainfall this month has totaled 8.38 inches — 5.73 inches above normal. “We could very well end up with the wettest July on record as more storms are expected the latter part of the work week,” Bobby Boyd, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Nashville, wrote via email. Boyd said the wettest July on record was in 1878, when there was 9.43 inches of rainfall. All of the recent rain may be responsible for opening a 9-foot-wide, 50-foot deep sinkhole along the edge of Dean and Trisha Parker’s yard in Fairview last week.

Year-long traveling exhibit to honor state parks (Associated Press)

A traveling exhibit highlighting the 75th anniversary of Tennessee state parks is hitting the road for the next year. A trailer emblazoned with Tennessee state park images and logos is touring state parks and various communities. There are 54 state parks, and most Tennesseans have one within an hour’s drive. The newest park, Cummins Falls in Jackson County, opened this year. Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed July Tennessee state parks month. The exhibit itinerary is at www.tnstateparks.com.

Woman enters plea in TennCare fraud case (Stewart Houston Times)

Others plead guilty, indicted in Houston County An Erin woman, who was charged in May with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare, pleaded guilty to charge on July 9. Carrie Dianne Adams, 50, who gave a 16 Ridge Top Drive, Erin, address, entered a guilty plea for TennCare fraud, three counts of sale and delivery of a Schedule III drugs Adams had been charged with TennCare fraud for using TennCare to obtain a prescription for the painkiller Hydrocodone, later meeting with a confidential informant and selling a portion of the drugs.

Oliver Springs woman charged with ‘doctor shopping’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

An Oliver Springs woman remains in the Roane County Jail today on two counts of TennCare Fraud. Melissa Ann Adkins, 28, was arrested for going to several doctors to obtain the painkiller Oxycodone and for using TennCare benefits to pay for her pills. Adkins had been on the run nine months, according to the state’s Office of Inspector General. She had been held in the Anderson County Jail on unrelated charges but was taken Friday to the Roane County Jail, according to a news release.

Judge Phillip Robinson refuses to take election victory for granted (TN/Allyn)

Phillip Robinson, an incumbent Circuit Court judge who has deep political roots and is flush in campaign money, is running in the approaching state and county general election without challengers. Still, Robinson has some worries because the names of two independent candidates, Scott Rosenberg and John Heacock, will appear on the Aug. 2 ballot — despite the fact that each now supports Robinson. “I’m afraid some voters will see me on the bench and become complacent,” Robinson said.

TN House candidates face residency questions (Tennessean/Rau, Cass)

Jason Potts wants your vote in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary, and he’s going to need it. After all, the House District 53 candidate won’t be able to vote for himself. Charles Williamson says he already cast a ballot for himself in District 50. But the Republican shouldn’t have, based on Metro Codes documents and rulings that show he can’t legally live where he registered to vote. Potts, already a Metro councilman, does not yet live in the South Nashville legislative district he seeks to represent in the General Assembly.

Party loyalty issue in Tennessee House District 31 race (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Identity politics — as in who’s a Republican and who’s not — has become a major issue in the Tennessee House District 31 GOP primary. Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, faces opponent Ron Travis, of Dayton, in the race and, last week, Rhea County Republican election officials challenged as many as 30 would-be GOP primary voters on grounds they were Democrats and not “bona fide” Republicans. Now Cobb is charging that Travis himself is little more than a Democrat in disguise. Travis, an insurance agency owner, said he has considered himself a Republican since he began voting.

Statesmen’s Dinner Passes With Tension in Republican Ranks (WPLN-Radio)

More than a thousand Tennessee Republicans gathered at Gaylord Opryland over the weekend for the party’s annual Statesmen’s Dinner. Amidst the hobnobbing, keynote speaker Mike Huckabee rallied the troops to help elect Mitt Romney president. Very little time was dedicated to Tennessee-specific races, where there is still tension within the ranks with serious primary challenges statewide. Tennessee GOP chairman Chris Devaney calls it a sign of strength though, since Republicans now control the General Assembly, Governor’s office and all but two Congressional seats.

Prayer supporters gather 900 signatures on petition (Times Free-Press/Haman)

Two Hamilton County residents took it upon themselves to gather a public show of support for Hamilton County commissioners being sued in federal court for holding prayers during meetings. Kelvin Flemings, 77, said he and Herbert “Sonny” Frizzell, 84, delivered about 900 signatures to the Hamilton County Commission office Monday morning on a “stand for prayer at County Commission meetings” petition they started two weeks ago. “This is my home, and I’m just tired of people messing with us,” Flemings said after delivering the papers.

County Commission firm on holding prayers before formal meetings (NS/Donila)

The Knox County Commission will continue to pray each month before formal, voting meetings. The panel in a 10-1 vote Monday adopted a written policy for regular invocations. About 10 residents spoke against the measure, most suggesting that the board instead hold a moment of silence. But, after roughly 90 minutes of discussion, members said they’re not changing a thing — other than to put it in writing. “Each person has the opportunity to opt out (of participating), but I don’t see anyone up here offering a specific religion,” said Commissioner Mike Brown.

Memphis blogger, candidate claims 1,000 given wrong ballots (C. Appeal/McMillin)

A local blogger who has closely followed redistricting and voting issues has produced voting data he says reveals nearly 1,000 voters have so far cast ballots in the wrong races for either state Senate, state House, U.S. House of Representatives or some combination of those three. Steve Ross, the Democratic nominee for a Shelby County Commission seat on the Aug. 2 ballot, said concerns about the Shelby County Election Commission rushing to update its voting database following redistricting of state and federal districts led him to run an analysis narrowly looking at voters who live close to voting boundaries.

Memphis agencies unite to tackle gangs (Commercial Appeal/Warren)

Local and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials said in a news briefing they are ready to attack the problem – linked to home and car break-ins, murders, shootings and armed robberies – with an unprecedented fervor through their Multi-Agency Gang Unit. “There will be more boots on the ground,” Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich said. “This is a strong, strong statement.” The most violent gang members and leaders now can be prosecuted federally for being part of a criminal enterprise, a charge that can net them 15 years to life in prison, U.S. Atty. Ed Stanton said.

ORNL says wood-burner will pay for itself (Associated Press)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory built its reputation through the power of the atom and is now tapping the power of wood and steam. ORNL officials tell The Knoxville News Sentinel a new wood-powered steam plant is so highly efficient, it will create $200 million in savings on fossil fuel costs over the next 25 years. That’s far more than the $60 million price tag for the Biomass Steam Plant. The plant takes in waste wood chips from the Oak Ridge Hardwoods business, uses temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to convert them to synthetic gas and then burns that fuel to produce up to 21 megawatts of power for heating.

Erlanger Health System raises linked to savings (Times Free-Press/Martin)

Some Erlanger Health System employees may see a bigger paycheck by the end of the year — if first they can help get their hospital back into the black. The public hospital board’s finance committee approved a resolution Monday evening to fund salary increases and market adjustments for employees based on “gains from the expected improvements.” “This is another way of including our employees in solutions that provide a team approach,” Erlanger interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson told board members when she asked for approval of the resolution.

La Vergne job fair set for mail processing facility (Daily News Journal)

The city is partnering with Snelling Professional Services to help fill about 60 positions at a new mail processing facility. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Wednesday and again Aug. 1, applicants will be interviewed at the Multipurpose Building behind City Hall, located at 5093 Murfreesboro Road. The jobs will include sorting and transferring of printed materials and small packages. Job requirements include being 18 years old, having a high school diploma or GED, and passing a background check and drug screen.

To Spur Advanced Enrollment, Metro Tweaks GPA System (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

High schools in Nashville are trying to encourage students to sign up for harder classes. Some don’t, for worry that tougher courses will hurt their grade point average. So Metro will use a different grading scale this fall for honors and advanced-placement classes. Weighted systems aren’t a new thing in other districts such as neighboring Williamson County. Metro’s new scale (pdf) makes earning a ‘B’ in an advanced-placement class count the same as an ‘A’ in a regular class.

MNPS overhauls grading scale to reward AP, IB, honors students (CP/Garrison)

Metro Nashville Public Schools, eager to dispel the perception it doesn’t prioritize academic rigor, announced Monday the district has adopted a weighted grade-point-average that will reward students enrolled in demanding courses. The new grading scale — identical to models of school systems in Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties — allows students to earn up to a 5.0 GPA in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, and a 4.5 GPA in honors and dual-enrollment classes.

Metro Nashville Schools to adopt 5.0 GPA scale (Tennessean/Fingerroot)

A weighted grading scale designed to lure more students into higher-level classes will begin in Nashville public high schools when the school year starts next week. The newly adopted 5.0 scale allows points to be added to classes in the honors, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs because those classes are more rigorous than others. The change will allow students to have a grade-point average higher than the 4.0 that traditionally has been considered the highest attainable score in a class.

VW gives $50,000 to Hamilton County STEM school (Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Hamilton County School officials are hoping a $50,000 gift from Volkswagen will carry them through the home stretch of funding a new science, technology, engineering and math school, a process that has taken longer than they hoped. Local business leaders pledged support when the county’s STEM school was announced in the spring, but actual funding has lagged, pushing the school board to borrow $500,000 from its capital projects fund to prepare the school in time for the 2012-13 year, which begins Aug. 13.

Loudon schools chief seeks money for resource officers (News-Sentinel/Lovett)

The director of Loudon County schools told the County Commission budget committee Monday that he needs more money to provide school resource officers in three schools within the Loudon city limits. Jason Vance told the committee that the city of Loudon is prepared to pull its officers from the schools unless the county can provide another $30,000 in funding for the two Loudon Police Department officers assigned to Loudon Elementary, Fort Loudoun Middle and Loudon High schools.

Sullivan schools eye plan to ‘grow’ principals from ranks of teachers (Times-News)

Sullivan County’s public school system plans to start growing future principals more directly from the ranks of teachers. Using an assistant to the principal program, Director of Schools Jubal Yennie told the Sullivan County Board of Education at a called budget meeting Monday night, is one of the ways he hopes to help the system become more efficient and effective in the next five years as the system continues to lose student population.

Rain Too Late for Tennessee Corn (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

While farmers in the corn belt continue to pray for rain, Tennessee’s agriculture industry is benefiting from July’s meteorological about-face from June. Robert Ralph of Sumner County has a hundred head of cattle who were running out of grazing pasture. “Made the grass grow. The animals feel so much better out in the rain and it got the creeks running a little bit.” Ralph says he feels for the cattlemen in the Midwest having to sell off their herds. He had to do the same thing in the drought of 2007 because he couldn’t afford to feed his cows.

Prices climb as drought spreads; Vilsack urges action (C. Appeal/Sells)

The drought vexing farmers this year is beginning to push up commodity prices as crop conditions worsen and supply is expected to tighten. That’s likely translate to higher food prices later this year. U.S. corn and soybean acres rated in “poor” or “very poor” condition by the National Agricultural Statistics Service continues to grow. Fifty-five percent of Tennessee’s corn crop is now rated in poor or very poor condition as is 27 percent of its total soybean crop, the government agency said Monday.

Man pleads not guilty to Murfreesboro mosque threats (Tennessean/Allyn)

A Texas man who was indicted last month by a federal grand jury on a charge related to allegedly making bomb threats against the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro pleaded not guilty in federal court in Nashville on Monday. Javier Alan Correa, 23, of Corpus Christi, Texas, is charged with violating the civil rights of mosque members by infringing on their religious freedom. Attorney Sumter Camp, who was appointed to represent Correa, appeared with the defendant in front of Magistrate Judge John Bryant.

 

OPINION

 

Arne Duncan: The Tennessee Story (Huffington Post)

For the last four years, the Obama administration has provided funding and incentives for states to help build a teaching profession that is both respected and rigorous. Today, we’re starting to see that investment pay off — in expanded collaboration among teachers and improved performance among students. More teachers today are treated as true professionals, instead of as interchangeable cogs in an educational assembly line. Exhibit A: Tennessee. Tennessee — one of the first two states to win a federal Race to the Top grant — recently released an important report on the first year of implementing its new teacher evaluation system.

Editorial: Politicians tie teachers with rolls of red tape (Daily News Journal)

Congratulations to the majority of Rutherford County teachers who scored well on the new evaluation system enacted this past school year. Unfortunately, statewide, favorable scores from principal observations fail to match up with students’ test scores. Data recently released by the Tennessee Department of Education found principals gave more than 75 percent of teachers scores of 4 or 5, with 5 being the highest and best score possible. Compare that with only 50 percent scoring 4 or 5 based on student learning gains measured on tests. And while fewer than 2.5 percent scored a 1 or 2 when observed, 16 percent scored a 1 or 2 when judged by learning gains.

Times Editorial: Short sales tax respite is coming (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Residents of Tennessee and Georgia who want — need — to save money on back-to-school expenses might consider postponing shopping for a week or two. The savings could be considerable for parents and others who buy selected clothing, school supplies and computers during the states’ special sales tax holidays in August. Tennessee will observe its holiday Aug. 3-5, and Georgia will hold its holiday on Aug. 10-11. There are slight differences in rules, but the moratorium in each state allows consumers to purchase the exempt items — within clearly stated and reasonable limits — without paying sales tax. The tax holidays are welcome.

Editorial: Gun rights, yes; AR-15s, no (Tennessean)

To hear the reports in the media and on the Internet, Americans stunned by the nation’s latest massacre have lost their ability to do anything about assault weapons. We are expected, because of the fears among gun owners that all their rights will be taken away, to watch helplessly when, time after time, innocent citizens die at the hands of madmen. Not all mass killers will ever be stopped, but authorities could prevent some of them, and possibly reduce the number of casualties they inflict — if we renew the fight to ban specific type of weapons that clearly are not intended for sport or for self-defense, but are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly

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