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August 1 TN News Digest

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

Matching higher ed with job market focus of Haslam summit (NS/Boehnke)

Tennessee does not have enough qualified workers with specific skills, a high work ethic and critical thinking abilities, local business leaders told Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday. College and university leaders, meanwhile, said they need more resources to adequately educate and graduate more students to fill those jobs. The exchange was part of an hourlong roundtable hosted by the governor at Scripps Networks Interactive in West Knoxville. Haslam brought together local business executives and college leaders to discuss how the state’s higher education system can better meet its workforce needs.

Haslam want schools to prep state workforce (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has brought together business leaders struggling to hire qualified workers and education officials who say they need more help preparing the state’s workforce. The governor on Tuesday had a roundtable discussion in Knoxville, one of seven higher education discussions he is having around the state. The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/T2egUk ) reported that Haslam wants the state’s two higher education systems to better meet the needs of businesses in the state.

Gov. Haslam stops in Knoxville to discuss higher education (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam stopped in his hometown of Knoxville to talk about higher education in Tennessee. The governor led a discussion at Scripps Networks about building bridges between education and business. The goal is to better match what students are learning in the classroom with the needs of employers. The governor says that’s one of the keys to attracting new companies to Tennessee, and he says the effort needs to target not just college students or high school, but even younger grades.

Haslam appoints members to regulatory authority (Associated Press)

Earl Taylor has been named the new executive director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which is responsible for setting rates and service standards for privately owned utilities. Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Tuesday the joint appointment of Taylor and two more directors to serve on the agency. The additional directors are James Allison and Herbert Hilliard. Earlier this year the General Assembly passed a law that changed the membership of the regulatory board from four full-time members to five part-time members and an executive director.

Haslam, legislative leaders name TRA officials (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Thirty days after Gov. Bill Haslam’s reshuffle at the Tennessee Regulatory Authority became law, Haslam and legislative leaders have finally appointed a full-time director and two new part-time directors. Haslam’s office today said the governor, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, have jointly named Earl Taylor, an attorney and East Tennessee businessman, as the agency’s executive director. The three also named James Allison, a utility industry veteran, as a director.

Sales Tax Weekend Boost for Biz, Consumers (Memphis Daily News)

Mignonne Wright is looking forward to this weekend. Friday, Aug. 3, kicks off the state’s yearly three-day sales tax holiday that can fuel a boost in business for retailers that carry certain clothing, school supplies and computers. Wright is the owner of MacAdvantage, an Apple Specialist store in East Memphis, at 4860 Poplar Ave. This will be her store’s first experience with the sales tax-free weekend, and she’s expecting a boost in sales, particularly of iPads. During the weekend, according to the state, computers with a purchase price of $1,500 or less and that won’t be used in a trade or business are exempt from tax.

Haslam administration collecting input on state’s needs for health care (T-N)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration collected input Tuesday that will lead to an upcoming critical decision on health insurance coverage scheduled to go into effect in 2014. Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak conducted an outreach meeting at the Kingsport Renaissance Center to gather feedback about health conditions that should be covered in an essential health benefit (EHB) package under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Smooth cruise for driver’s license service (Time-Gazette)

One thing that many people dread is the seemingly long ordeal to get your driver’s licence renewed, or even worse, getting that new photo taken. But the wait time at Shelbyville’s driver service center on Railroad Avenue is less than half the state average, according to the man who heads up the state’s department of safety. On Monday, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons dropped by to talk to staff at the center and check to see how they are reducing customer’s wait times and improving service.

State Route 840’s last section opens Nov. 2; bicyclists go first (Tennessean/Adams)

Following decades of talk and years of construction delays, the opening of State Route 840 as a completed throughway is at hand, according to the head of Tennessee’s transportation office, and there’s a bit of symbolism in who’ll be traversing it first. John Schroer, the commissioner of TDOT, announced Tuesday during a community cycling event that on Oct. 13 the rubber tires of hundreds of bicycles will touch the pavement before any motorized vehicles. That event, held in partnership with an organization promoting cycling and healthier living, will precede SR-840’s official opening on Nov. 2.

Columbia State asks for input on a future campus (Tennessean)

As Columbia State Community College moves forward with plans to replace its outgrown facilities off Hillsboro Road with a modern, expansive campus on Liberty Pike, the school’s president is asking the community to dream big. “There is a moment in every project where it is important that people think outside the box, dream big dreams and dare to talk about it,” President Janet Smith, Ph.D., said in a news release. The public is invited 6:30 p.m. Thursday to share their thoughts with the architect and college officials regarding the new Williamson County Columbia State campus and higher education needs now and in the future.

Funding cut faces University of Memphis newspaper (Memphis Business Journal)

A committee voted to reduce the budget of The Daily Helmsman, the on-campus newspaper of the University of Memphis, by 33 percent in a move newspaper leaders say is related to the publication’s content. The Student Press Law Center reports the school’s Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee voted to reduce funding for the student newspaper from $75,000 to $50,000. Helmsman editors said they’ve been told the cuts are due to displeasure over the paper’s content.

5 arrested in Johnson City nursing home abuse investigation (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation arrested five former employees at a nursing home in Johnson City over allegations of mistreatment of dependent adults. According to a news release, a Washington County grand jury indicted the five people in July, and they were arrested on Monday and Tuesday. Rebecca Blevins, Jessica Ketterman and Jennifer Ketterman, all of Elizabethton, were each indicted on two counts of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a dependent adult.

TRA executive director, board members named (Associated Press)

Thirty days after a new law took effect transforming the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, the utility regulating agency got an executive director and a quorum for its new part-time board on Tuesday. Earl R. Taylor, a Panera Bread franchisee who lives in Knoxville and has previously worked as a consultant to media companies, was named as the full-time executive director of the agency jointly by Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. Previously, the TRA had four full-time directors and no executive director.

Judge Rules Memphis Library Card Can’t Serve As Voter ID (WPLN-Radio)

A federal judge has ruled library cards issued in Memphis will not count as proper voter identification in Thursday’s election. The ruling effectively favors the state, but the judge made clear she’s no fan of the voter-ID requirement as it’s currently written. U.S. District judge Aleta Trauger said it makes no sense that the law excludes certain kinds of ID, like cards for students at state colleges. Even the state’s attorney agreed the law should get another look from legislators, after plaintiffs noted you can vote using an expired boating license from Alabama. Regina Newman, the Memphis deputy attorney, argues the burden is being underestimated for old and poor people who have to get photo IDs.

Nashville judge criticizes voter ID law, says no to library cards (Tennessean/Sisk)

A Nashville judge ruled that voters in Memphis cannot use newly issued library cards to vote in Thursday’s primary, but she also urged lawmakers to revisit the state’s voter identification law to clear up aspects of it that she said made no sense. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said Tuesday that she was not convinced the state legislature meant for election officials to accept cards issued by local governments when they passed a law last year requiring voters to show picture IDs.

Library photo IDs won’t be accepted for Thursday’s voting in Memphis (CA/Roberts)

The public library’s new photo cards won’t qualify as voter IDs in Thursday’s elections, and the long-term outlook for the voter-photo initiative of Mayor A C Wharton appears in serious jeopardy after a two-hour hearing in federal court here Tuesday. U.S. Dist. Judge Aleta Trauger denied the City of Memphis’ request for an injunction ordering election officials to accept the photo cards as identification under Tennessee’s law requiring most voters to present photo IDs at polling precincts before they can cast ballots.

AG’s opinion supports diversion ban for officials (Associated Press)

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says a state law that makes public officials ineligible for pretrial or judicial diversion for crimes related to their official position or duties is constitutional. The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/QaRYA1 ) reports the opinion was requested by state Rep. Eric Watson, the state House Judiciary Committee Chairman. Cooper wrote pretrial and judicial diversions are not “fundamental rights” and a state may treat elected or appointed public officials differently than the general public “without running afoul of federal or Tennessee constitutional protections.”

Republicans likely to get more votes on Thursday (Daily News Journal)

Voters will head to the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday trending toward casting ballots in the Republican primary instead of the Democratic primary, local records show. The Rutherford County Election Commission staff counted 10,177 ballots from early voters, and 7,100 participated in the GOP primary to choose nominees for Congress and the Tennessee General Assembly. The Republican number more than doubles the 2,770 who voted in the Democratic primary. Another 307 only voted in the general election for County Property Assessor, County Road Superintendent, County Road Board, County Board of Education and Murfreesboro City School Board.

Grant for airport saves $80K (Times-Gazette)

Work on the deteriorating taxiway at Shelbyville’s airport is set to begin this fall after a $1,520,000 federal and state combined grant was approved for the facility. The best part of the deal is that the local grant match will save the city $80,000. The grant was announced Monday by the office of State Sen. Jim Tracy, who stated in a press release that “it is important that our airports are in good operating order to welcome economic development in our county, as well as use for local citizens.”

Tennessee House District 31 race bitter to the end (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The latest development in the bitterly contested state House District 31 GOP primary is that incumbent Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Republican challenger Ron Travis, of Dayton, really do agree on some things. Both men have reservations about school vouchers, and both say they back anti-abortion legislation. Beyond that, though, all bets are off in a contest that has attracted statewide attention. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is probing challenges by election officials of Democrats and other voters who are trying to vote in the Republican primary, which can be done if certain criteria are met.

GOP candidates amass, spend much in run-up to Thursday primary (N-S/Vines)

State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey has $166,344 in her campaign chest with no opponent going into Thursday’s Republican primary, while Evelyn Gill, the only Democrat in the race for the 6th District post, has $1,927. That’s what the latest financial disclosures filed last week with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance shows. Massey and Gill will face off in the Nov. 6 general election. The next disclosure deadline for candidates is Oct. 10. Massey’s disclosure reported she entered the reporting period in July with $116,871, raised $53,240 and spent $3,767.

Marsh seeks another term in state House (Times-Gazette)

State Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) has announced that he will seek re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 62nd District. In announcing his decision, Marsh stated, “My family and I are very grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support and encouragement during this process. We are humbled by the overwhelmingly positive comments sent our way,” he continued. Marsh is running unopposed in 2012. Achievements Marsh was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2009 during a special election after the previous representative resigned.

Tennessee tops Tax Foundation sales tax rankings (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee ranks highest among all 50 states in a new study of state and local sales taxes released today by The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization. Tennessee has the highest combined state and local sales tax rate with an average of 9.43 percent, according to the study. Arizona is the next highest at 9.12 percent. Rounding out the five highest states are Louisiana (8.86 percent), Washington (8.83 percent) and Oklahoma (8.68 percent). Tennessee shoppers will get a break from nation’s highest sales tax rate this weekend with the annual state sales tax holiday Friday through Sunday.

Bill Boner plans false arrest suit in dispute over campaign signs (Gannett)

Republican Property Assessor Bill Boner said he has until Friday, the day after the election, to turn himself in to authorities on a sign vandalism accusation. “I’m going to file a false arrest lawsuit,” Boner said during an interview at his property assessor office Tuesday. Democratic opponent Rob Mitchell swore out an arrest warrant against Boner recently, and the incumbent said a deputy served the summons two Sundays ago. “The deputy read it to me,” Boner said.

Lawsuit may delay raises for police, Mayor Littlefield says (TFP/Hightower)

Fifty-six full-time civilian Chattanooga employees must wait a week to learn whether they get pay raises this year, but about 130 police officers must wait even longer. An age discrimination lawsuit filed by 29 police officers could jeopardize $1.2 million in pay increases already promised in this year’s budget, Mayor Ron Littlefield told City Council members Tuesday. Councilman Andraé McGary immediately asked Littlefield how the city would address the police department’s career ladder pay program.

Bradley County’s tornado recovery effort winding down (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

The rebuilding effort after the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in Bradley County is winding down. A new house is under construction on Randolph Samples Road for one family, while a groundbreaking ceremony is set for Thursday for another home on Lee Street. And the paperwork is in progress for the final home to be rebuilt because of the tornadoes. The deadline for contacting the Bradley County Long Term Recovery Committee was in April. “We are winding down,” said Lisa Mantooth, caseworker for the committee, and that time came sooner than expected.

Commission Stands By Commenter Subpoena (Memphis Daily News)

No matter where they are on the municipal school districts issue, most Shelby County Commissioners were surprised by the subpoena issued last week by attorneys trying to have the municipal school districts legislation declared unconstitutional. The attorneys represent the commission as a body. But commission members are sharply divided on the overall legal quest with a majority favoring the pending court action. The subpoena seeks the identities of readers who commented on stories on The Commercial Appeal website.

Chuck Fleischmann bills languish in panels (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann enjoys telling voters about legislation he has introduced to freeze government spending, eliminate capital gains taxes and abolish “wasteful” federal programs. However, the Ooltewah Republican never tells campaign audiences that his legislative output — six resolutions in all — has stalled in various House committees. Fleischmann is finishing his first term in the House, and in Thursday’s 3rd Congressional District GOP primary he faces three Republican challengers who have used his record, or lack thereof, to question his effectiveness in Washington, D.C.

Cohen support for school board candidates irks advocates (CA/McMillin, Sullivan)

Some involved in Shelby County school board races are riled at U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen for endorsing candidates in Memphis-specific races he says had the “foresight” to vote against dissolving Memphis City Schools to force Shelby County schools consolidation. “When we needed to hear from him concerning the schools issue is when we were in the midst of deciding to surrender or hold the charter — for him to get involved now is disingenuous,” said Noel Hutchinson, a candidate in the District 1 race and leader in a group of clergy who helped push Memphis voters to approve by nearly 70 percent a referendum finalizing schools consolidation.

Health Care Ruling Casts Doubts on Billions in State-Federal Funding (Stateline)

In striking down the federal health care law’s mandatory Medicaid expansion, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month limited a key component of the federal government’s power over the states for the first time in decades, unsettling state-federal relations for years to come. With the new limit in place, worries that countless other programs, regulations and mandates that impose federal requirements on states could face a similar fate are now beginning to reverberate around the country.

Government vows to ‘look very hard’ at Y-12 security breach (NS/Munger)

National Nuclear Security Administration, the semi-autonomous part of the U.S. Department of Energy that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons program, vowed Tuesday to “look very hard” into the unprecedented intrusion by protesters into the highest-security area at tbe Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and learn from it. “We are taking this matter very seriously,” Steven Wyatt, a spokesman in the NNSA’s site office at the Oak Ridge plant, said in response to questions about the weekend protest.

185 Gaylord workers face layoff if Marriott deal approved (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Gaylord Entertainment Co.’s restructuring plan would affect more than 300 local employees, two-thirds of whom will be out of work if a deal with Marriott International goes through this fall. The Nashville-based hospitality company said Tuesday that it would eliminate an estimated 310 corporate positions if the plan wins shareholder approval. Of those, about 185 people would be laid off. The remaining 125 or so workers probably would move over to Marriott International Inc. as it takes over operations of Gaylord’s four resort hotels as part of a restructuring plan unveiled in May.

Gaylord laying off 310 at HQ (Nashville Post/DeLombaerde)

The planned conversion of Gaylord Entertainment to a real estate investment trust will cost more than 300 headquarters employees their jobs with the company. Gaylord officials on Tuesday notified the workers that their time with the Nashville-based company will end after Sept. 30, assuming the $210 million planned sale of the Gaylord Hotels brand and management rights to Marriott International goes through. (Gaylord is fending off opposition from TRT Holdings, its largest shareholder.)

Marriott deal would lead to 310 job cuts at Gaylord (Nashville Business Journal)

Gaylord Entertainment Co. (NYSE: GET) will cut about 310 corporate jobs if shareholders approve the company’s plan to sell its hotel brand to Marriott International. Of those 310 positions, about 40 percent will transition to Marriott as Gaylord operates as a real estate investment trust, according to a statement from Gaylord. “This is an extremely difficult and unfortunate part of the reorganization process as the company prepares to sell the Gaylord Hotels brand and the rights to manage its four hotels to Marriott International Inc. and convert to a real estate investment trust, pending shareholder approval,” Brian Abrahamson, Gaylord’s vice president of corporate communications, said in the statement.

Erlanger starts East Brainerd ER (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Bradbury)

Erlanger Health System broke ground Tuesday on a $7.8 million expansion to Erlanger East in East Brainerd, the first full-service emergency department to serve East Hamilton County. Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said construction should be finished in six months. The new facility will feature 17 treatment rooms and will provide services to patients of all ages, Erlanger President and CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson said. “We will be treating everything from sports injuries to major illnesses for children and adults,” she said.

Nash. schools rezoning victory stirs support for limited busing plan (TN/Fingeroot)

Black community leaders claim racism is a pervasive part of Nashville school policy and think a limited busing plan is needed. More than a dozen black leaders met Tuesday at the NAACP Nashville Branch office and used dissatisfaction with a recent desegregation court decision in favor of Metro Nashville Public Schools as the starting point for airing grievances. The group contends Metro schools that serve traditionally black and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are “subpar” and black children do not receive the same allocation of funds and supplies as others.

Appeal on the Way in Desegregation Lawsuit (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The desegregation lawsuit over Metro School’s zoning plan is not over. The local chapter of the NAACP formally announced today it will appeal a ruling handed down last week. At the heart of the original case was the argument that Metro Schools purposefully drew new zones to, quote, “make majority black population schools blacker and majority white schools whiter.” Judge Kevin Sharp found that intent wasn’t there, and threw out the case. However, he did find that that the district’s plan essentially lead to segregation.

Earliest ever start to school begs question: Will kids show up? (C. Paper/Garrison)

With Metro set to begin school Wednesday Aug. 1 — the earliest it ever has — the district has upended years of traditional mid-August and September starts, raising a fundamental issue that will be answered Wednesday: Will the kids show up? “The big question is, how many kids get on the bus or walk to school tomorrow,” MNPS spokeswoman Meredith Libbey told The City Paper. Habits are hard to break. And word isn’t always easily spread, especially in a district that has a sizeable percentage of students who come from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Shelby County suburbs have backup plan if schools declared illegal (CA/Bailey)

While suburban leaders continue to campaign for passage of municipal school referendums Thursday, they have a backup plan in the form of charter schools. “I think everybody is aware that it is an option and would definitely be something to consider, just because this thing keeps getting uglier and uglier as we go forward,” Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman said of the fallback option. “People are getting more and more outraged at the obstacles that people keep trying to throw at the suburbs.”

School Board Takes First Steps Toward Merger Supt. And Plan (M. Daily News)

Countywide school board members gave themselves a majority of the seats on a 13-member committee to begin the search for a superintendent to lead Shelby County’s two public school systems into an August 2013 merger and beyond. The committee on which board members hold seven seats will recommend the parameters for a superintendent search by the end of August to the full board for its approval. And then the search itself would begin. School board chairman Billy Orgel will appoint the seven board members and the full board will vote on approving six citizens not on the school board to the panel.

Registration day offers variety of school choices in Memphis (CA/Roberts)

Fifteen minutes before registration was scheduled to start, families were waiting outside Cornerstone Preparatory Academy, perhaps the sweetest line executive director Drew Sippel has ever seen. We opened the doors and cranked up early,” he said enthusiastically early Tuesday. By late afternoon, 160 children were registered at Cornerstone, a charter school taking over grades 1-3 in Lester School, a public school in Binghamton. “We are way ahead of what people have told us to expect,” Sippel said.

11 arrested in meth op (Jackson Sun)

The Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics Unit conducted an operation last week that led to the arrests of 11 people and the seizure of a meth lab in South Jackson, authorities said this week. The operation was done in cooperation with local pharmacies to target people purchasing pseudoephedrine products for the purpose of making methamphetamine, authorities said. Pseudoephedrine is the primary ingredient in decongestant cold medicines that have to be purchased through a pharmacy and not over-the-counter.

Massachusetts: Aims to Cut Growth of Its Health Costs (New York Times)

The Massachusetts legislature passed a first-in-the-nation bill on Tuesday that seeks to limit the growth of health care costs in the state. The bill would not allow spending on health care to grow any faster than the state’s economy through 2017. For five years after that, any rise in health care costs would need to be half a percentage point lower than the increase in the state’s gross domestic product. Legislative leaders say the bill, which includes other cost-slowing provisions, could save as much as $200 billion in health care spending over the next 15 years.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: New day for Metro schools (Tennessean)

Summer break is over for Metro Nashville Public Schools, as they open their doors today to students. They are beginning the school year earlier than ever before, thanks to the district’s new “balanced” calendar. The first day always is exciting as students meet new teachers, settle into new classrooms and new textbooks. This year, however, they, and especially their teachers and principals, should feel a positive momentum that they haven’t experienced in a long time. For the first time since 2007, Metro is not on a list of districts that face the threat of a state takeover. Instead, they are on the state’s new “intermediate” status list — which may not sound that impressive, unless you’ve had a sword hanging over your head for a long time.

Free-Press Editorial: Greg Vital’s vile tactics disgust (Times Free-Press)

Another day, another allegation of dirty campaigning against Greg Vital. On July 25, this page endorsed Vital in the Republican primary for the open 10th District state Senate seat, but we expressed our concern about his “win-at-all-cost mentality.” Since that time, that win-at-all-cost attitude has turned Vital from a promising candidate into a loathsome embarrassment. The Times Free Press reported on Monday that “an official complaint has been filed with the U.S. attorney’s office accusing state Senate candidate Greg Vital’s campaign of voter tampering and potential fraud.”

Editorial: Stifling the press? (Commercial Appeal)

The University of Memphis’ Daily Helmsman shouldn’t be just a public relations platform for the university An independent press is essential, even on a college campus. College newspapers like The Daily Helmsman at the University of Memphis provide a valuable resource for reporting happenings on university campuses — the good and the bad; the controversial and the benign. It is dismaying to learn that the Helmsman has been hit with a sizable funding cut — $75,000 to $50,000 — by the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee. It was a decision made amid expression of displeasure with the newspaper staff’s coverage decisions.

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