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August 15 TN News Digest

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

Haslam hosts forum on TN business, higher education (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Gov. Bill Haslam said the days of higher education cuts are likely coming to an end. He is working to figure out how to fund universities in a way that will allow them to meet the growing workforce needs of Tennessee companies. The state is now in a position where it has some money in the bank. And while everyone wants a piece of the pie, the governor said one of the biggest needs is making sure colleges have the necessary tools to train the future workforce. Representatives for some of Middle Tennessee’s largest employers met with Haslam on Tuesday to express what they need out of Tennessee’s college graduates.

Workforce Preparation (Memphis Daily News)

Haslam discusses future needs with business, education leaders Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been hearing the same thing as he travels across the state holding forums on higher education. Tennessee’s technology centers don’t have the equipment that employers want to see their workers trained on before they hire them. Haslam heard it again earlier this month during the latest forum at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Haslam defends Harwell in tussle for house gavel (Nashville Business Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam piped up for House Speaker Beth Harwell today, saying her “very substantial accomplishments” in leading Republicans the past two years warrant continued support. Speaking after an education panel he had assembled, the Republican governor told reporters he thought Harwell had done a good job managing the varying interests of Republicans in the House. He made the remarks in response to a question about a report by the Associated Press saying that Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, was considering a run against Harwell.

Haslam Praises Harwell Amid Hints of Matheny Challenge (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam is backing current State House Speaker Beth Harwell, amid hints that a fellow Republican could challenge her control of the lower chamber. Tullahoma Rep. Judd Matheny says he might try to unseat Harwell. A challenge from Matheny risks pitting more conservative House Republicans against the moderate Harwell, who has worked closely with Haslam. Asked about the potential for such a challenge, Haslam told reporters he liked Harwell’s work in what he called a difficult role.

Haslam: Questions Remain On School Vouchers (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Bill Haslam says passage of a school-voucher bill next year is not guaranteed. Such a measure could divert public school dollars to help parents afford sending kids to private school instead. Earlier this summer Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey said he expects some kind of voucher bill will make it through the legislature next year. For his part, Haslam said he doesn’t think it’s a done deal, adding quote “that’s a political observation, not a personal observation.” Haslam says he still wants to know what kind of return on investment vouchers would yield in the way of academic results.

Judd Matheny mulling bid for Tenn. House speaker (Associated Press/Schelzig)

State Rep. Judd Matheny is mulling a challenge to House Speaker Beth Harwell for the top chamber’s top leadership position, the Tullahoma Republican confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press. Matheny holds the title of House speaker pro tempore, the only post besides speaker elected by the entire lower chamber of the General Assembly. The position wields little independent power, and Matheny complained in the interview of being marginalized by other Republican leaders, who he said worked to dilute his key legislative initiatives ranging from loosening gun laws to battling what he perceives as the spread of Islamic law in the United States.

Tennessee ranks 14th in job creation (Nashville Business Journal)

The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that economic recovery, while slow, is continuing across the country Tennessee ranked 14th in total nonfarm job creation in July with an additional 41,800 jobs created over July of 2011, an increase of 1.58 percent, according to a report from On Numbers. California ranked the highest, adding 279,100 nonfarm jobs from its July 2011 total, although California lost more than 1 million jobs during the recession.

First lady Crissy Haslam will give books (Gannett)

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam will attend the 66th annual Cheatham County Fair next week to encourage reading and learning. Haslam will distribute 150 copies of the book “Charlotte’s Web” at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. “She called us, and they requested to come on the night of the demolition derby,” said D’Andrea Moulton-Felts, secretary of the Cheatham County Fair Association. The fair is Aug. 20-25 at the Cheatham County Fairgrounds in Ashland City.

Tennessee exports up 7 percent (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee exports are up 7 percent so far this year, showing that more of the state’s companies are shipping goods overseas amid a range of efforts to encourage such activity. The state’s exports totaled $15.7 billion in the first half of 2012, up from $14.7 billion in the same time period last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

TDOT tour puts faces on projects (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Benton)

A tour group of Tennessee Department of Transportation and local officials is hitting 32 of the state’s upcoming, ongoing or recently completed construction projects in Southeast Tennessee. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said the tour that started Monday in Cannon, Coffee, Franklin and Marion counties is intended to familiarize him and his upper-level staff from Nashville with the projects on the state’s plate. It helps for projects to have a face for staff members who see all the paperwork, he said.

John Jay Hooker moves to have three disqualified from hearing appeal (TN/Allyn)

John Jay Hooker filed a motion on Tuesday in Davidson County Circuit Court asking Gov. Bill Haslam to disqualify three former members of the state Supreme Court whom the governor appointed to a panel to hear Hooker’s case. Hooker, a spirited octogenarian attorney, has long assailed how state appellate judges are chosen. He holds that they should be elected by voters, not appointed, and says the state’s Constitution backs him up. The governor recently appointed a special panel to hear Hooker’s case after all the current Tennessee Supreme Court justices recused themselves from taking up the issue.

Some DA practices run afoul of state rules (Times Free-Press/Walton)

Ask law enforcement folks in the 10th Judicial District about District Attorney Steve Bebb’s ride and they all say the same thing — a gray 2007 Chevy Malibu. That car was seized by the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force in October 2008 from a driver hauling a kilo of cocaine. Task force records of vehicle seizures between 2006 and 2010 list the Malibu as “in use by Steve Bebb.” But under state law and Tennessee attorney general’s opinions, Bebb isn’t supposed to have the keys. His job doesn’t come with a car, and state law limits how vehicles seized in criminal cases may be used.

Maggart: NRA’s ‘Negative Campaigning’ Led to Her Defeat (TN Report)

Leading House Republican Rep. Debra Maggart hasn’t decided whether she’ll make another go if it in 2014 following her recent GOP primary defeat in Sumner County. The Hendersonville Republican blamed her loss on the National Rifle Federation and the Tennessee Firearms Association which “dumped over $150,000” worth of political ads into the race, she said. “To tell the people of my district over and over and over that I am for gun control, which is a total lie, was very effective. People say they don’t like negative campaigning, but negative campaigning works,” she said following a roundtable discussion between Gov. Bill Haslam, legislators and business and education officials about improving higher education while at Tennessee Technology Center in Nashville Tuesday.

“No Refusal” Law goes into effect for Labor Day (WJHL-TV Johnson City)

A new law enacted by the Tennessee state legislature this year is making it easier to get drunk drivers off the street. It’s called the “No Refusal” Law and it allows law enforcement officials to seek a search warrant in order to obtain a blood sample in cases involving suspected impaired drivers. 11Connects Chris McIntosh was at the Tennessee Highway Patrol headquarters today as they are gearing up for a “No Refusal” enforcement campaign this Labor Day weekend.

THP to enforce ‘No Refusal’ law in Sullivan County DUI stops (Times-News)

Tennessee law enforcement wants drunk drivers to know they will be out for blood over the Labor Day weekend. State troopers, local police and prosecutors gathered Tuesday at the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Fall Branch district headquarters to announce their “No Refusal” DUI enforcement campaign will be concentrated in Jefferson and Sullivan counties. Tennessee’s No Refusal law allows law enforcement to seek search warrants for blood samples in cases involving suspected DUI drivers.

Circumstances make tax increase necessary (CA/Bailey, Maki, Patterson, Moore)

Shelby County Commission member Mike Ritz still thinks, as he did in March, that a sales tax is a “regressive” tax. But he calls it the county’s best hope to fund the new unified city-county school district, or as many as seven separate school systems in the county. On Monday the County Commission approved Ritz’s proposal to ask voters in Memphis, Millington and unincorporated areas of the county to approve a countywide sales tax increase of a half-cent on the dollar. The resolution authorizing the November tax-increase referendum passed 7-5.

Rutherford County Stays Course on Meetings Notice (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A judge ruled in June that Rutherford County should be doing more to publicize meetings that might be of particular interest to the public. County officials say they haven’t started doing that yet. The lawsuit was about whether the county properly approved a mosque just outside the Murfreesboro city limits. The issue hinged on public notice of the planning commission meeting two years ago. A chancery court ruled the gathering violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. The only public notice was a few lines in a free newspaper tossed in people’s driveways.

Democrats Seek Details On Tenn. Voting Problems (Associated Press)

Democrats in the state House have written a letter to elections officials seeking to find out how many people were given improper ballots or were otherwise prevented from voting in the Aug. 2 primary. The letter dated Tuesday and signed by 25 House Democrats says it is “unacceptable” to deny registered voters to fully participate in elections. The lawmakers want Secretary of State Tre Hargett to respond to questions about how many voters received the wrong ballot; whether there is a uniform procedure to make voters aware of how to obtain the correct ballot; and how many people were denied the right to vote due to problems with presenting government-issued photo identification.

Democrats press for answers on election problems statewide (C. Appeal/Locker)

Democrats in the state legislature and state election officials exchanged letters Tuesday over problems in the Aug. 2 election with election officials saying they were mostly confined to Shelby County. Meanwhile, Shelby County Administrator of Elections Richard Holden said he will respond Wednesday to detailed questions from state officials about those problems, which may have caused nearly 3,200 local voters to receive incorrect ballots. Tuesday’s developments were the latest in an ongoing story about issues in the Aug. 2 state primaries, county general elections and municipal referendums.

Tennessee Democrats question issues with primary ballots, voter IDs (TN/Sisk)

Twenty-five Democratic lawmakers in the state House of Representatives demanded that Secretary of State Tre Hargett answer questions about balloting and voter identification issues in primary elections this month. House Democrats sent Hargett a letter Tuesday asking him to state how many were turned away at the polls because of identification issues, how many people in Tennessee were given incorrect ballots on Aug. 2, and whether the state has procedures for making sure voters get the right ballot.

Senator to visit Chattanooga turbine plant (Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is scheduled to visit a Chattanooga plant that manufactures turbines for power plants. Corker will tour the Alstom facility, the newest plant of the France-based manufacturer, on Wednesday afternoon. Corker, a Republican who served as mayor of Chattanooga, is scheduled to visit the plant and meet with employees, starting at about 3:40 p.m. Alstom’s website says the Chattanooga plant has the capacity to manufacture and test the world’s largest turbines for fossil steam, nuclear and gas power plants.

Eric Stewart, Scott DesJarlais spar over debates (Tennessean/Sisk)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and his Democratic opponent are sparring over whether to debate in the race for the 4th Congressional District. State Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, accused the first-term Republican congressman of ducking his request to have a series of debates throughout the district that stretches from Rutherford County to the Chattanooga suburbs. “Political debates are a time-honored tradition in this country,” Stewart said at a morning rally in Murfreesboro attended by about 50 supporters. “I’m disappointed in Congressman DesJarlais’ unwillingess to stand up and face the voters.”

Accused squatter almost on ticket for U.S. Senate (WSMV-TV Nashville)

The man accused of squatting in a foreclosed home and is charged with harboring runaway girls is the son of a deceased state lawmaker and almost ended up on the Democratic primary ticket for U.S. Senate, a Channel 4 I-Team investigation has determined. A series of Channel 4 I-Team investigations exposed Ashley King squatting in a foreclosed home for nearly a year. Our investigations also found two runaway girls at the foreclosed home, and King was later arrested and charged with harboring juvenile runaways.

Wine-in-groceries effort gets boost from Kentucky ruling (Tennessean/Brown)

A federal court ruling against a Kentucky law prohibiting wine and liquor sales at grocery stores could energize efforts to loosen similar regulations in Tennessee, business groups said Tuesday. The ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II found the neighboring state’s law unconstitutional by preventing grocery and convenience stores from selling liquor and wine but allowing other retailers to do so. The judge said the 70-year-old law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Guardsmen enjoy homecoming at Smyrna Airport (Daily News Journal)

Michael Morefield didn’t even notice his wife, 14-month-old daughter and parents were wearing matching white T-shirts to welcome him home Tuesday from a tour of duty in Kuwait. “He just grabbed his daughter,” Chasity Morefield said after she and her todler, Addisyn, and inlaws Danny and Donna Morefield had greeted him at the Tennessee National Guard’s Volunteer Training Site by Smyrna Airport. “She (Addisyn) was 2 months old when he went to Kuwait,” added Donna Morefield, whose extended family traveled from the Clarksville area to see her son return to Tennessee.

Welcome home! (Jackson Sun)

Geneva Ross of Henderson waited with family members to welcome her son, Sgt. Todd Davis home after a year of deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the Tennessee National Guard Tuesday in Trenton. Davis was one of more than 160 National Guardsmen from Trenton’s 230th Engineer Battalion, who were welcomed at Trenton’s National Guard Armory at around 6 p.m. More than 400 people were there to receive the soldiers, who departed from Trenton on Aug. 17, 2011.

TVA’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant flagged for more safety issues (TFP/Sohn)

TVA’s Browns Ferry has received more safety flags from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Athens, Ala., electricity plant powered by three nuclear reactors had a preliminary “white” finding — NRC’s least serious safety flag — extended from one of the reactors to all three, according to NRC spokesman Joey Ledford. “The “white” finding for all three units was based on an NRC inspection that found plant operators and staff would not have been able to satisfactorily perform newly implemented procedures for safe plant shutdown,” Ledford said.

‘Serious breakdown’: Bad cameras, slow guards cited in breach (NS/Munger)

A slew of things went wrong for Y-12 security in the early hours of July 28. A “high number” of surveillance-and-assessment cameras were inoperable at the time, including one at a critical site where three protesters cut through a fence and entered the plant’s highest-security area — ultimately defacing the plant’s uranium storage facility with spray-painted messages and splashes of human blood. Despite receiving numerous alarms from an array of sensors on the fence line, the plant’s protective force failed to react as protesters used bolt-cutters to cut through three fences.

Sen. Corker says security fixes under way at Y-12 (News-Sentinel/Munger)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., following a briefing Tuesday at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, said he believes officials are responding swiftly and adequately to the July 28 security breach. “At this point, I’m satisfied that they understand this was a very serious matter, and that they’re making multiple changes to ensure, to the best of their ability, that this never happens again,” the senator said in a telephone interview. While three protesters penetrated the plant’s security systems and defaced the exterior of the plant’s storehouse for bomb-grade uranium, Corker said they were never “anywhere close” to the sensitive nuclear materials.

Online news source Nibletz moves to Memphis (Commercial Appeal/Dowd)

For a small operation, online startup Nibletz promises big exposure for local entrepreneurs. That’s because Baltimore native Kyle Sandler, who founded Nibletz with business partner Cameron Wright in 2011, has relocated the company’s headquarters to Memphis and plans to regularly feature the local startup scene on the site. Boasting the tagline, “The Voice of Startups Everywhere Else,” Nibletz highlights entrepreneurs from areas other than California’s famed Silicon Valley and with good reason, Sandler said.

National Tech Media Site Relocating to Memphis (Memphis Daily News)

Nibletz.com, which bills itself as “the voice of startups everywhere else”, is moving its base of operations to Memphis, after considering a few other cities – and even sweeter incentives elsewhere. Site co-founder and content director Kyle Sandler said he and co-founder Cameron Wright ultimately were swayed by the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem that’s coming together here. They also were swayed by a strong courtship from EmergeMemphis executive director Eric Mathews and his team that includes LaunchYourCity co-president Andre Fowlkes and chief branding officer Elizabeth Lemmonds.

Methodist University Hospital seeks emergency room expansion (CA/Risher)

Methodist University Hospital will seek state approval of a $33.5 million expansion and renovation of its crowded, outdated emergency department quarters. Methodist HealthCare trustees voted in July to approve the project, which will be submitted Wednesday to the Tennessee Health Services Development Agency in Nashville for a certificate of need. The ER, which has received only patchwork renovations over 40-plus years, has been running at capacity and desperately needs more room to serve patients from Midtown, Downtown and the region, chief operating officer Jamie Carter said.

Sumner schools finally to open (Tennessean/Easton)

Sumner County students will finally start school Thursday, ending a 12-day standoff between the Board of Education and County Commission over school funding. The Sumner County Board of Education in a special-called meeting Tuesday voted 10-1 to begin the school year, one day after the County Commission offered $800,000 of the $2.76 million school officials said was needed to open schools. Tuesday’s meeting was the fifth in a series of special-called meetings since Aug. 2 in which the district’s budget has ping-ponged between the two bodies.

Nashville school board defers action on Great Hearts Academies (Tenn/Fingeroot)

After nearly two hours of debate about how to avoid approving a controversial charter school on Nashville’s tony west side, school board members finally decided to postpone a decision. Mark North, vice chairman of the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education, even asked if seven members of the nine-member board could leave the meeting and prevent the others from having a legal majority required for a vote. “We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” board Chairman Gracie Porter said.

Hamilton County schools continue to gain students (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

Hamilton County Schools saw another year of big gains in student enrollment. Enrollment numbers released Tuesday show a countywide enrollment of 40,355 on Monday’s first day of school, a gain of 890 students over 2011’s first day. Hamilton County’s enrollment counts tend to increase over the first month of classes as students trickle into school. This year’s first-day count is still about 1,900 students shy of last year’s 20th day enrollment of 42,236 students, records show.

Tossed meth bottle leads to 2 arrests (Jackson Sun)

Two people have been arrested regarding an Aug. 3 incident where authorities said a one pot meth bottle was tossed in the parking lot of a Milan grocery store, according to a news release. The West Tennessee Drug Task Force, along with Crockett County sheriff’s deputies, have arrested Joshua Rushing, 28, and Ashley Woody, 25, both of Maury City. Both have been charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, initiation of a process to manufacture methamphetamine, promotion of methamphetamine manufacturing and reckless endangerment, according to a news release from the West Tennessee Judicial Violent Crime & Drug Task Force.

 

OPINION

 

Guest columnist: Haslam urged to embrace health care reform (Tennessean)

An open letter to Gov. Bill Haslam: I confess that while I did not vote for you, you have impressed me. Unlike some leaders in your own party I appreciate that you have appointed Democrats and even a Muslim to positions of high office. You are certainly showing your commitment to the breadth of our great state. But now you have an opportunity to show your commitment to the depth of our great state, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is now, with a few changes, the law of the land. In part the law requires the creation of health insurance exchanges. In part the purpose of these exchanges is to provide medical coverage to more people, especially the impoverished, indigent and working poor.

Editorial: Imagination Library helps develop solid learning skill (Jackson Sun)

Learning to read is the foundation of education. Learning to enjoy reading is something every child should experience. That’s why the Imagination Library project is so important. It puts as many as 60 age-appropriate books into the hands of children during their most formative years. Support of the Jackson-Madison County Imagination Library is one of the most effective ways to help guide children into a world of discovery, entertainment and learning. We urge everyone to help support this effective, cost-efficient aid to local education efforts. United Way of Jackson recently announced a $15,000 donation to our local Imagination Library. The grant will be matched with a grant from the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation.

Editorial: A debate? We call for one (Daily News Journal)

Redistricting caused a few changes for Rutherford County and those include who will represent us in the United States House of Representatives. Most recently, we have been represented by Diane Black and by Bart Gordon before her. However, Rutherford will cease to be a part of the 6th Congressional District at the end of this year. We will fall under the 4th Congressional District, and our congressman will be either incumbent Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais or his Democrat opponent, Eric Stewart. We will vote for one of those two men in the November election. Stewart issued a challenge to DesJarlais for debates via Twitter on election night. He is stating that DesJarlais is refusing to debate, but we understand it is still early in the election process.

Gail Kerr: Scandal-ridden Arriola should stay out of clerk’s race (Tennessean)

A strip of blue tape covers the name of John Arriola on the little sign in Madison that directs motorists to a satellite county clerk’s office where they can buy their car tags. Would that the city could erase the memory of what Arriola did so easily. He was caught charging couples who asked him to marry them a total of $119,400 over five years. Now he’s considering running for the same office again. Seriously? Once caught by WTVF-Channel 5, Arriola was given a break by District Attorney Torry Johnson and allowed to resign in June instead of facing prosecution on felony charges. Here’s the real underlying stupidity. The clerk’s office is run efficiently. The lines are short and move quickly. If he’d have kept his nose clean, Arriola could have been re-elected for life to a job with an annual salary that tops six figures.

Editorial: Rogero’s efforts offer support for local businesses (News-Sentinel)

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero was criticized during her 2011 campaign for not being a business-friendly candidate. Rogero disputed that characterization and pledged to promote business interests during her term. Since her inauguration last year, Rogero has delivered, proving that she wants to improve the city’s business climate. First, she hired Patricia Robledo to run the city’s newly formed Office of Business Support. Robledo has been busy pushing Rogero’s initiatives. In recent weeks, the Rogero administration has taken more steps to strengthen ties between business and city government by forming a business advisory council and establishing an entrepreneurial center in Market Square.

Times Editorial: Scott DesJarlais: Cowardly or cunning? (Times Free-Press)

Eric Stewart, Democratic nominee for Tennessee’s 4th District seat in the U. S. Congress, wants to publicly debate Scott DesJarlais, the incumbent Republican and his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election. That’s a request voters in both parties should respect. Debates provide an opportunity for incumbent and challenger to explain and defend their policies on important issues. DesJarlais obviously believes he doesn’t owe that to district voters. He’s arrogantly rejected Stewart’s reasonable request for three debates in the next month. Stewart made the timely request following early August primary voting. The response should have been a prompt agreement to do so.

Editorial: Many questions about sales-tax vote (Commercial Appeal)

The Shelby County Commission reversed itself and voted Monday to put a countywide sales-tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot. But was the timing of the decision really based on the need to ensure adequate funding for the new unified school system in Memphis and Shelby County? Or was it, as one observer put it, an escalation of the war that has developed among commissioners over the creation of municipal school districts? Whatever the case, the decision to seek voters’ approval for a half-cent increase in the county sales tax mucks up plans for a Nov. 6 referendum in the city of Memphis that would have asked its residents to approve raising the sales tax inside the city by .5 percent. If it had been approved by Memphis voters, the additional tax could have raised an estimated $47 million annually to reduce Memphis’ property tax rate, fund public safety operations, improve infrastructure and fight blight.

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