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August 2 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Awards $230K Grant to Newbern (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer announced today the award of a $229,789 transportation enhancement grant to the town of Newbern to fund the Depot Connection Project. The project aims to improve connectivity between the Amtrak Station and the Newbern business district. The project includes the installation of four pedestrian crosswalks, landscaped pedestrian buffers, shade trees, and pedestrian lighting.

Tenn. governor stumps for Romney in Asheville (Citizen Times)

Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam spent Wednesday stumping for Mitt Romney in Western North Carolina. His first stop was the Romney campaign office in Asheville and from there he attended a roundtable on agriculture and small business at Apple Wedge Packers and Growers in Hendersonville, according to the Romney campaign. His last stop was in Sylva at a campaign office. He told supporters in Asheville that North Carolina is key to Romney’s plan to win the White House. President Obama won the state in 2008 by just 14,000 votes.

Breastfeeding Best for Baby, Best for Mom (Clarksville Online)

A new or expectant mother must make a lot of decisions that affect her health and the health of her baby. Among the most important: Should I breastfeed my baby? Governor Bill Haslam has declared August 1st-7th World Breastfeeding Week in Tennessee to demonstrate the state’s ongoing support of this vital practice. As part of the recognition of this health observance, the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding all potential, expectant and new mothers of the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies.

Tennessee retailers get ready for Friday start to tax-free weekend (CA/Dowd)

Although the upcoming sales tax holiday doesn’t generate quite the same frenzy as, say, Black Friday — at least not yet — the annual three-day event is expected to sweeten the coffers of retailers statewide and save millions of dollars for customers clamoring for back-to-school bargains. For the seventh consecutive year, Tennessee will hold a sales tax-free weekend beginning on Friday and continuing through Sunday. Shoppers will be eligible to save on clothing, school supplies and computers and those savings will be substantial.

Math concepts coming to a Tennessee classroom near you (TFP/Hardy)

Forget memorizing formulas, times tables and equations. A new set of math standards will require Tennessee students to fully master the why and how of math concepts as opposed to just coming up with the right answer. Tennessee and Georgia are in the process of implementing the Common Core standards, a more rigorous and universal set of teaching standards. So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have committed to fully implementing the Common Core. Students at the Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts got a first glimpse of the new curriculum this week as teachers held a three-day math camp.

Tennessee seeks advice on health plans (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Martin)

Tennessee officials are asking for input on what kind of essential health benefits residents would like to see in insurance plans offered under the federal health care law. State officials will choose from nine benchmark plans — which consist of the primary insurance plans offered in the state — and select one. That plan will serve as the “floor” for any health insurance plans offered on the Tennessee health exchange, Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak said. The exchanges, scheduled to be up and running by January 2014, are intended to work as one-stop shops for people and small businesses to find, compare and buy health insurance.

Watching for Potential Election Day Errors (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Voters go to the polls Thursday for state primary elections and some local races. New identification requirements and changes to the shape of voting districts bring the potential for confusion or mistakes. State and federal officials say they’re prepared to deal with any problems. The State Division of Elections will man a hotline all day, both answering voters’ questions and looking into complaints. The US Department of Justice is at the ready, too, with FBI Agents and Assistant US Attorneys on hand to look into allegations of voting problems.

TN report shows rise in crimes against the elderly (Tennessean/Haas)

Julius Taylor was just taking out the trash last week when a young man walked up and asked for a light. He barely had time to respond before the robbery began. “The next thing I know, he wanted to get my billfold,” said Taylor, 74. “I was fixing to tell him, ‘No you aren’t getting that.’ But when I saw another guy come out of the bushes, I just threw it on the ground.” Taylor was unharmed and the robbers, who were brothers, were arrested a short time later. But his case adds to the growing number of Tennesseans 65 years old and up who are becoming victims of crime, according to a report released Wednesday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Older People Increasingly Crime Victims: TBI (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Older people in Tennessee are increasingly the victims of crime, according to new data from the state Bureau of Investigation. The surge of incidents targeting the elderly comes even as the overall number of crime victims has fallen. The report looked at crimes statewide over the last three years. The number of elderly victims went up 7 percent in that period, even as the total count dropped 5 percent. North Nashville retiree Weldon McGilmer says he hasn’t been victimized himself, but a lot of seniors are scared.

City receives $3.5M grant for airport runway overhaul (State Gazette)

The revitalization of the Dyersburg Regional Airport will continue on schedule, as the Tennessee Department of Transportation through its Aeronautics Division, announced on Monday that it has awarded the city of Dyersburg $3.5 million in funding to repair and resurface the runway at the airport. The funding will address issues at the airport such as cracks in the runway, line-of-sight issues and a partial rebuild of the runway where the cross runway and the main runway meet.

Court says Channel 5 may have presented judge in ‘false light’ (CP/Greenberg)

Davidson County General Sessions Court Judge Dan Eisenstein’s lawsuit against NewsChannel5 and reporter Phil Williams will be remanded back to trial court to settle false light claims after the Tennessee Court of Appeals decision this afternoon. The court cleared the news station and Williams of most of Eisenstein’s charges against them, but two false light issues stemming from a Feb. 28, 2011, broadcast will be sent back to Davidson County Circuit Court — which originally dismissed all the claims.

Little-noticed order reverses ban against judges’ donations (TN/Allyn, Kingsbury)

January, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted an overhauled code of conduct that applied to judges across the state, intended to draw a clear line between courts and politics. But days before the new conflict-of-interest rules were to take effect on July 1, the court issued a little-noticed order reversing one of its reforms: Judges in the state will be allowed to make political contributions — despite being expressly banned in the original, widely celebrated changes.

Supreme Court to Hear Judge Selection (Memphis Daily News)

A new Tennessee Supreme Court will hear the latest court challenge to how state appellate court judges are selected. The case of John Jay Hooker vs. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is a challenge to what is known as the Tennessee Plan – yes or no retention votes on all judges above the trial court level including the Tennessee Supreme Court. Two of the retention elections are on Thursday’s statewide ballot. Because of the lawsuit, all five sitting Supreme Court Justices have recused themselves from hearing the case.

Tenn. attorney general declares Hawkins seat vacant (Times-News)

A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion returned to the Hawkins County Mayor’s Office Tuesday states that the seat of District 2 County Commissioner Dustin Dean was officially vacant the moment it was discovered he lives outside of his district. The opinion issued Tuesday by Attorney General Robert Cooper also states that Dean’s seat should be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election. The Hawkins County Election Office became aware in January that Dean lives just inside the District 3 boundary thanks to a state review of the 2011 county redistricting plan.

Thirteen apply for open Circuit Court judgeship (Daily News Journal)

Thirteen attorneys have applied to fill a Circuit Court vacancy in the 16th Judicial District after the Tennessee Supreme Court appointed Judge Don Ash to serve as a senior judge. The Judicial Nominating Commission will hold a public meeting to interview the following candidates for the post, which serves Rutherford and Cannon counties.

Keisling regrets ‘inappropriate’ email on Obama martial law rumor (NS/Humphrey)

Republican state Rep. Kelly Keisling has drawn national attention and Democratick denunciation for using his state email account to circulate a rumor that President Obama is planning a fake assassination attempt as a pretext for imposing martial law in the United States. The lawmaker, a Byrdstown insurance agent, did not return calls Wednesday after national blogs — initially the Huffington Post — reported on his email and the state Democratic party declared its assertions “ridiculous.”

Rep. Hurley files police report over vandalized campaign signs (N-S/Willett)

State Rep. Julia Hurley said she is “sick and tired” of having to replace campaign signs due to vandalism and ready to press charges if the perpetrators can be identified. Hurley, facing a primary today against challenger Kent Calfee for the Republican nomination in the 32nd District, said the sign damage increased as the campaign progressed. “It’s constant. It’s everyday. I have to replace the same signs over and over,” she said. Since the campaign began, Hurley said she has replaced dozens of signs. Replacing vandalized signs has become a huge drain on campaign funds she said.

Voters to decide key primary contests in Tenn. (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Months of bruising primary campaign activity comes to a close Thursday as voters head to the polls to decide the winners. Voters will need to find ways to keep cool, as the National Weather Service predicts temperatures in the high 90s for the central and western parts of the state. Among the most closely watched contests are the efforts by U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and Diane Black of Gallatin to return to Congress for a second term. Both have faced strong challenges for the Republican nomination, and both races have featured large amounts of outside money in the form of independent expenditures.

They Play, You Pay (TN Report)

Tennessee taxpayers will fork over an estimated $4.5 million this week administering elections for the two major parties. But as a matter of state law, the decision as to who can and cannot participate in the partisan festivities is ultimately left to party officials and not the government. For that matter, there’s no guarantee the majority will get to decide the winners and losers. That reality of the fundamentally rigged nature of Tennessee’s primary system was on display recently in Rhea County, where election judges turned away at least 10 voters this month for trying to vote in a primary election in which they were deemed by local GOP bigwigs as not “bona fide” members of the Party of Lincoln.

Tennessee heads to polls today (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

After a record turnout for early voting and millions of dollars shelled out for often-negative ads, Tennessee voters get their say today on which Democratic and Republican nominees will be in races this fall for seats in the state Legislature, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Also on the ballot are general election contests for school boards and property assessors in all 95 counties. In some, including Hamilton County, voters have special elections for county mayor, judge slots or other local posts.

Race to watch in Clarksville: GOP bid for state House 74 (Leaf Chronicle)

State House contest heated up with attacks on Steward Voting begins at 7 a.m. Thursday for the state primary and county general election, but considering the ballot, this election seems more like a dry run for November. The most interesting contest on the ballot is for the Republican nomination to state House District 74. The contest grew brutal with a volley of personal accusations leveled against Clarksville City Councilman Nick Steward. The local head of a Tea Party-inspired grass roots group raised questions about Steward’s military discharge, legal residency and arrest record.

Some Sequatchie votes set to follow old district lines (Times Free-Press/Benton)

Adding to election day confusion of road construction and the World’s Longest Yard Sale, Sequatchie County, Tenn., voters in some districts must cast ballots today according to old district lines because of 2010 redistricting and overlapping County Commission terms. A state attorney general’s opinion on Sequatchie’s election situation with four partial-term seats on the ballot affects races in County Commission Districts 1, 3 and 8 to fill two-year unexpired terms, Administrator of Election Linda Pittman Tate said.

Super PACs Keep Ads Coming Through Election Day (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A few Super PACs are keeping political ads – most of them negative – on the air in Tennessee through Election Day. The biggest spending is in the 6th Congressional District. Nashville health care investor Andy Miller has spent more than $230,000 attacking Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin. He’s supporting Lou Ann Zelenik, who narrowly lost to Black in the Republican primary two years ago.

Election Commission will slow process to prevent problems (CA/McMillin, Smith)

In an effort to make sure all voters receive the proper ballot, the Shelby County Election Commission has added an extra step that chairman Robert Meyers said could slow the voting process for everyone in Thursday’s elections. The ballots will feature state and federal primaries, Shelby County general elections and suburban referendums related to the creation of municipal school districts. Ballot problems following redistricting of state House and Senate and U.S. House voting boundaries led to more than 3,000 voters appearing to cast ballots in incorrect races during the early voting period.

DA says early voting should leave courthouse (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Early voting should be moved out of the Roane County Courthouse to avoid potential problems about campaign boundaries and uniformed officers near polling places, the county’s District Attorney General says. Russell Johnson’s recommendation to the Roane County Election Commission comes on the heels of a formal complaint filed over allegations an incumbent was stumping for re-election from her office’s front door — directly across from the Election Commission office.

Voter ID printing error no concern (Daily News Journal)

A printing error that left a few words off thousands of voter registration cards sent out last month shouldn’t affect voters when they go to the polls today, according to Rutherford County’s elections administrator. Polls open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m. for Republican and Democratic primaries for state legislature and U.S. Congress, as well as county general elections for property assessor, road superintendent, school and road board seats.

TN works on fracking rules (Tennessean/Gang)

The Piney River is the reason why Lee McCormick moved to Hickman County to start his cattle ranch. “The water on this place is what made my decision for me,” McCormick said this week as he stood on the river’s banks, watching the clear water flow by. But now, McCormick is worried. A Knoxville-based energy company last year asked to lease the natural gas rights on his property. McCormick turned down the offer, concerned that fracking would be used to extract the gas from the ground.

Some Burchett PayPal donors not reported on disclosure form (NS/Donila)

Four electronic donations to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s 2010 election totaling $2,000 were not recorded on his campaign finance disclosure reports as required by law. The money was deposited into an “Elect Burchett” PayPal account, an online system that allows people and businesses to transfer money via email. In four other instances, records show that a combined $1,600 was shifted out of that PayPal account and into Burchett’s personal PayPal account, which at times he has used to buy goods from Ebay, an Internet auction site.

Postal cutbacks hurt rural outposts the most (USA Today)

The Postal Service, reeling from its failure Wednesday to make a $5.5 billion payment toward employee benefits, continues to move ahead with plans to cut hours at more than 13,000 rural post offices. The proposed reductions are poised to strike the deepest blows in rural areas, many lacking broadband Internet and reliable cellphone service — places where businesses depend on the mail and residents use the mail to receive everything from prescriptions to correspondence.

TVA ending solar incentive program Sept. 30 (Memphis Business Journal)

The Tennessee Valley Authority is reportedly ending its Generation Partners solar incentive program Sept. 30. TVA is replacing Generation Partners with Green Power Providers, a new program that will continue to fund the arrays at a lower rate. It will cap the system size at 50 kilowatts and provide $1,000 in incentives, a significant decrease from the previous program. Generation Partners helped fund up to 75 percent of projects between $100,000 and $1 million.

Security stand-down: Contractor halts all nuclear operations at Y-12 (NS/Munger)

In an extraordinary effort to address growing security concerns following Saturday’s break-in by protesters at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, the government’s contractor shut down all plant nuclear operations, placed the stocks of enriched uranium in secure vaults, and set up a schedule for thousands of Y-12 workers to take refresher courses on security do’s and don’ts. B&W Y-12, the managing contractor at the plant, ordered the “security stand-down,” and the National Nuclear Security Administration said it fully supports the move.

BlueCross, Memorial dispute could raise costs for some patients (TFP/Martin)

Members of BlueCross who go to Memorial hospital since contract negotiations failed between the parties may well pay more out-of-pocket costs, according to officials from both sides and national experts. “This is very complicated and confusing for mere mortals,” said Alwyn Cassil, with the Washington-based Center for Studying Health System Change. “Until this situation is resolved [patients] need to be very cautious. There’s no guarantee unless you get something in writing.”

Suburbs churning paperwork as part of legal battle (CA/Bailey, Patterson, Wolff)

The County Commission is seeking all schools-related communication from the suburban towns to determine what led to the municipal schools referendums. In the last two-plus weeks, staffs from the six suburbs seeking to form municipal schools districts have turned over thousands of pages of correspondence in response to a July 16 open records request by Lori Patterson, an attorney with Baker Donelson, the firm representing the commission in its legal challenge of Thursday’s municipal schools referendums.

Board Approves Formation of Transition Group (Memphis Daily News)

There are recommendations to come, decisions by two school superintendents instead of one about who works on the coming schools merger and more public meetings after 75 already by the schools consolidation planning commission. Such are the opening steps taken by the countywide school board Tuesday, July 31, on the selection of a single superintendent to lead Shelby County’s two public school systems into an August 2013 merger and the merger itself.

Lawsuit costs suburbs more than $115,000 so far (Commercial Appeal/Patterson)

Before even hearing election results, suburban leaders are celebrating a victory over the Shelby County Commission because they won the right to hold referendums on municipal schools. But that victory came at a price. Legal fees incurred since the municipalities’ decision to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Shelby County Commission in an effort to block Thursday’s referendums on municipal schools have reached more than $115,000. The law offices of Burch, Porter and Johnson, led by Tom Cates, who also serves as city attorney for both Germantown and Collierville, split the bill between the suburbs based on population numbers.

Nashville schools open with free supplies for some kids (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

About 1,000 kids at two Nashville elementary schools started the school year Wednesday with donated backpacks full of supplies, but others will need help, too. “We won’t know how we’re doing until next week,” said Meredith Libbey, assistant to the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. In a school system of about 80,000 students where 75 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the need can be obvious. Needs are “handled very discreetly at the class level” and sometimes a teacher will have supplies in the classroom, Libbey said.

Hamilton County votes to buy property for new elementary school (TFP/Haman)

Hamilton County commissioners voted Wednesday to clear the county mayor to spend $555,500 for seven acres adjacent to Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School for a future replacement school. The lone dissenter, Commissioner Tim Boyd, said he couldn’t support any land purchase for the school system until Superintendent Rick Smith or his staff brought the facilities plan the commission requested in June. The commission asked for the plan as a condition of a vote to halt the architect selection for a new East Brainerd Elementary School.

Maryville changes grade level distributions (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)

When Maryville City Schools decided to reconfigure grade levels at each of its schools, Lisa McGinley had to think about what exactly that meant for Maryville Junior High, where she is principal. The result for the junior high — which lost seventh-graders and gained ninth-graders — is that the school is more aligned with high school expectations. The shift, 10 years in the making, came as a result of district officials working to find a way to address increasing enrollments and crowding at Maryville High School.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: State’s voter ID law needs a fix (Commercial Appeal)

The judge got it right. Some stipulations in the state’s voter ID law are nonsensical. People who are skeptical about Republican assertions that their push to require a photo ID to vote is aimed at preventing voter fraud got some inadvertent support from a federal judge in Nashville Tuesday. U.S. Dist. Judge Aleta Trauger denied the city of Memphis’ request for an injunction ordering election officials to accept the Memphis Public Library’s new photo cards as identification under Tennessee’s law requiring most voters to present photo IDs at polling precincts before they can cast ballots.

Guest columnist: Don’t let costs of staff stop fight against child abuse (Tenn)

Herbert Ward said that “child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.” While that could certainly be said of all forms of abuse, child sexual abuse may arguably be said to be the most horrific form of child abuse. The high-profile case involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky has brought the reality of child sexual abuse, the lasting impact, the victims and the perpetrators into the public spotlight. According to a timeline of events, Sandusky was investigated by the public welfare department and law enforcement as early as 1998.

Editorial: Primaries matter; cast your vote today (Tennessean)

Today, show your pride as a Tennessean and vote. Most polls open in Middle Tennessee at 7 a.m., and all will close at 7 p.m. On the ballot are party primaries for one U.S. Senate seat, all U.S. House seats, all state House seats and about half of state Senate seats. In addition, there will be retention votes for two state appellate judges, along with local government races specific to your county. In past years, the August primary in Tennessee has been marked by extremely low voter turnout. It could be argued that such apathy is why so many people are unhappy with their government at the local, state and federal levels.

Frank Cagle: Why It Matters: Some Off-Year Elections Have Implications (MP)

There isn’t a lot of drama or interest in today’s election in Knox County, but this off-year contest has major implications for all of us. Here are some highlights to watch for if you are a political junkie and can tear yourself away from Olympic coverage. • The National Rifle Association has gone all-in with a bid to take over and run the state House of Representatives. Not only have they campaigned against some incumbents, they have sent a questionnaire out to the candidates asking them point blank: If it comes to a showdown next year on an NRA bill, will you side with them or “the House leadership”?

Joe Sullivan: Covering the Vulnerable: Why Expanding Medicaid is Compelling (MP)

The Affordable Care Act’s goal of making health care accessible and affordable to all Americans remains compelling, and none of its provisions more so than the one that makes all legal residents with incomes of no more than 133 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) eligible for Medicaid. The workings of many other components of the act are complicated as all get out, and some were compromised to gain the needed support of the health-insurance industry, drug manufacturers, hospitals, physician groups, and other health-care providers. A prime example is the individual mandate that requires all but the very poor to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

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