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September 21 TN News Digest

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

Haslam proclaims POW/MIA Recognition Week (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced September 21st-27th, 2012 as POW/MIA Recognition Week. In 1990, the 101st Congress passed legislation to recognize the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag. Since 2011, the week beginning the third Friday of September and extending through the following Thursday of each year shall be designated as “Tennessee POW-MIA Recognition Week” to remember and pay tribute to service members captured by the enemy and those still missing in action.

Governor Haslam proclaims POW/MIA Recognition Week (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced September 21-27, 2012 as POW/MIA Recognition Week. In 1990, the 101st Congress passed legislation to recognize the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag. Since 2011, the week beginning the third Friday of September and extending through the following Thursday of each year shall be designated as “Tennessee POW-MIA Recognition Week” to remember and pay tribute to service members captured by the enemy and those still missing in action.

Gov. Bill Haslam proclaims Sept. 21-27 POW/MIA Recognition Week (Nooga)

Sept. 21-27 has been declared POW/MIA Recognition Week by Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder. The National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag was adopted in 1990, when the 101st Congress passed legislation to recognize it. Now, the week beginning the third Friday of September and extending through the following Thursday will be recognized as Tennessee POW/MIA Recognition Week to pay tribute to service members captured by the enemy and missing in action.

Haslam Awards $375,000 in Highway Safety Grants (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John Schroer today announced more than $18.1 million to support highway safety in Tennessee. The funds support the mission of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office (GHSO) to save lives and reduce injuries on Tennessee roadways through leadership, innovation, coordination and program support in partnership with numerous public and private organizations.

Clarksville, Montgomery County leaders back from Japan trade trip (Leaf Chronicle)

Both Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan and Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn Bowers went on the trip organized by Gov. Bill Haslam. It included meetings with executives at Akebono and Bridgestone Metalpha, two Japanese companies with factories in Montgomery County. “We were the only area in Tennessee to be represented by both the city and county mayor, and I believe that showed Clarksville-Montgomery County’s commitment to economic development,” McMillan wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

$35,000 reward in Hercutt case (Mountain Press)

The reward for information leading to the arrest of Shannon Hercutt’s killer is now $35,000 after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam increased the amount the state is offering in the three-year-old case. Hercutt’s body was found Aug. 3, 2009, at the bottom of a ravine off Walker Trail, near Dollywood. Investigators at first believed her injuries were the result of the accident, but the medical examiner’s office eventually found they were the result of an assault. After the case was transferred from the Tennessee Highway Patrol to the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office, detectives found signs of a struggle at her home.

Haslam Open-Ended on Prospects of Meeting With Metro (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says he’ll be watching a meeting between his top education official and the chair of the Metro school board Friday. Earlier this week Haslam said he would withhold $3.4 million Metro was counting on, to punish Nashville’s school board for ignoring a state order. At issue was a charter-school applicant that won an appeal to the state, but could not win over the Metro board, even when the board’s own lawyer warned they were asking for trouble. Now Board Chair Cheryl Mayes has asked to discuss the matter, and State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is obliging.

Huffman to talk money with Metro on Friday (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman will meet with a Metro Nashville school board official on Friday, according to spokeswoman Kate Shellnutt. School board Chairman Cheryl Mayes asked for the meeting in a letter on Wednesday after Huffman announced earlier in the week that he would withhold $3.4 million from the school system because board members refused to approve a charter school as it had been directed to do. Mayes said in the letter that she would like to “revisit this matter and avert this action.”

Tenn tourism impact exceeds $15B, state back in top 10 for visitors (NS/Harrington)

Tourism’s economic impact in the state reached a record level last year as visitor spending exceeded $15 billion, according to new figures released Thursday at the 2012 Tennessee Tourism Governor’s Conference. The expenditures totaling $15.36 billion represent an increase of 8.7 percent, or $1.2 billion from 2010, the largest single year-over-year increase. “You really should be congratulating and celebrating your success,” Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker told a crowd during her annual state of the industry address.

August Makes Four Months of Rising Unemployment (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Unemployment in Tennessee inched up for the fourth month in a row. The rate for August released Thursday was 8.5 percent. Tennessee is moving the opposite direction of the national jobless rate, which dropped to 8.1 percent last month. MTSU economist David Penn says Tennessee has been particularly affected by the recession in Europe. “Much of our growth in manufacturing and business related to manufacturing have had to do with exports, over the last 10 years or so anyway. As the markets – especially European markets – shrink, then demand for our exports drops.”

State jobless rate rises to 8.5% (Nashville Post)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August increased to 8.5 percent, up from the July revised rate of 8.4 percent, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis announced today. A year ago, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent. The national unemployment rate for August was 8.1 percent, 0.2 percentage point lower than the July rate.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate continues to climb (Nashville Biz Journal)

Unemployment in Tennessee continued to increase in August, according to new data from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. Tennessee’s unemployment rate increased to 8.5 percent, up from the revised July rate of 8.4 percent Tennessee’s rise in unemployment came even as national unemployment declined, falling to 8.1 percent in August, down from 8.3 percent in July. August marks the fourth straight month that unemployment has increased in Tennessee.

Area jobless rates remain above U.S. average (Times Free-Press/Flessner)

Unemployment rose in Tennessee and remained unchanged in Georgia last month as the sputtering recovery kept the jobless rate in both states above the U.S. average. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the jobless rate in August rose for the fourth consecutive month, pushing the state’s unemployment to 8.5 percent, or four tenths of a percent above the national average. “There’s no doubt that there is a lull in the recovery,” said Dr. David Penn, director of economic forecasting at Middle Tennessee State University.

31 Tennessee kids died in first 6 months of this year, DCS reports (TN/Wadhwani)

State agency violated law by failing to report all deaths for 7 years Ten children died in Tennessee during the first six months of 2012 while they were the subjects of ongoing investigations by the Department of Children’s Services. None was more than a year old. An additional 17 children who died during the same time period had at some point been brought to the attention of DCS. At the time of their deaths, however, their case files had been closed. And four children ages 18 and younger died in state custody during the same period of time.

Regents OK grade-point averages restart (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Bunn)

College students with poor grade-point averages have the opportunity to start over if they transfer to a new school. The Tennessee Board of Regents Academic Policies and Programs Committee approved policy changes that will allow transfer students to begin with a new GPA within the Board of Regents system, and recognize the grade of “D” as a passing grade at all institutions. Credit will be given to all courses a student passes, including those that receive a “D.” If a student transfers to another institution, grades from the previous institution will not be factored into his or her GPA at the new institution.

Woman’s death in Lake City under TBI probe (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Authorities are investigating the death of a woman who came out of a moving Dodge Caravan on a sharp curve shortly after witnesses saw her arguing with the driver as they were parked at a nearby Lake City store. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has become involved “to determine if there was any foul play,” spokeswoman Kristin Helm stated in an email Thursday. “At this time, the case is still open and ongoing,” Helm said.

Mother charged with TennCare fraud a day after son’s death (News-Sentinel)

The mother of a Grainger County teen who fell to his death over the weekend has now been indicted on unrelated charges of prescription and TennCare fraud, authorities said. Louvita Louise Dalton, 33, of Indian Ridge, was indicted Monday by the Grainger County grand jury on one count of prescription fraud, one count of TennCare fraud and two counts of failure to appear, according to Sheriff Scott Layel. Dalton was released on bond, with an arraignment set for Oct. 22. The indictments came one day after her son, 14-year-old Dustin Michael Dalton, of Blaine, fell about 40 feet from a cliff onto rocks, sustaining a fatal head injury.

Witnesses’ tales reveal flaws in TN’s conservatorship law (Tennessean/Roche)

Several witnesses who said their rights and property were wrongly taken away in court proceedings joined a retired Wilson County judge on Thursday in calling for changes in the way conservatorships are granted and monitored in Tennessee. Retired General Sessions Judge Haywood Barry told a Tennessee Bar Association panel that more monitoring is needed for those involved in conservatorships. “You need some sort of training,” he said, referring to lawyers appointed by the courts to act as fact finders in conservatorship cases.

Rep. Stewart, independent Lewis face off in newly drawn 52nd District (TN/Lewis)

State Rep. Mike Stewart is still campaigning for a third term in the state House even without a major-party opponent. Stewart, D-East Nashville, will face independent candidate and outspoken libertarian Daniel Lewis in a newly drawn 52nd District seat in the state House in the November general election. For 10 years, the 52nd District took up most of East Nashville and then went southwest through Lipscomb University. The new district, redrawn by this year’s Republican-led state legislature, now goes from select parts of East Nashville to Antioch, the Nashville airport and parts of Percy Priest Lake.

State Senate candidate linked to dispute over woman’s estate (CA/Sullivan)

A Tennessee state senate candidate tore up an unconscious and dying widow’s last will and testament three years ago and later acknowledged in a sworn affidavit that he knew she was unconscious at the time. Court filings in Carroll County indicate that while John Stevens was in Ruth Keras’ hospital room, he said he was tearing up her will — which named St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a major beneficiary — at her request. Stevens is mentioned in the court filings but was not a party in the legal dispute over Keras’ estate.

Metro Council Calls Special Meeting Over Charter Trigger Law (WPLN-Radio)

The chair of the Metro Council’s education committee has called a special meeting to discuss a state law allowing parents to essentially take over school. The never-before-used trigger law permits petitioners to convert a public school into a charter. The committee plans to meet in October to hear from charter experts representing Metro Schools and the state’s board of education. The trigger law has become a hot topic in recent days. Monday night, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean will make remarks prior to the screening of a film on the subject.

Shelby County election administrator Richard Holden faces suspension (CA/Moore)

The Shelby County Election Commission voted unanimously to suspend administrator of elections Richard Holden for three days without pay in October, with probation of six months to follow. Election Commission member George Monger said the board voted Aug. 29 to suspend Holden because of personnel issues in the office and problems with the Aug. 2 election, in which thousands of voters received the wrong ballots. During Holden’s probation, he will have to modify his management style, Monger said.

Holden Suspended by Election Commission (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden has been suspended for three days and put on probation for six months following the suspension because of the way the Aug. 2 elections were conducted. Shelby County Election Commissioners took the action after a move in August by the two Democratic election commissioners to ask for his resignation failed. Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers confirmed the action Thursday, Sept. 20, but wouldn’t comment beyond the action saying it was a personnel action. The suspension is expected to be served by Holden during October.

Dogs, Ponies, and Shelved Initiative: The Sexual Orientation Vote for Dummies (MF)

The oft-used term “dog and pony show” has never been precisely defined, but it usually betokens some kind of staged sham event that is ballooned all out of proportion to its reality content. It’s a case of “you know one when you see one.” By the time it was over on Tuesday, the City Council’s hearing on a non-discrimination ordinance, which may have begun as something real, had become the very epitome of a dog and pony show. And no Academy Awards are to be presented for a whole series of performances that were too, too obviously make-believe.

Tennessee GOP sidesteps Romney remarks (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Beyond carefully crafted statements, several prominent Tennessee Republicans who have called for a national debate about federal entitlement programs are refusing to evaluate Mitt Romney’s belief that nearly half the nation is “dependent upon the government.” Sen. Lamar Alexander, Sen. Bob Corker, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Rep. Scott DesJarlais declined interview requests Thursday, sidestepping whether they agree with the Republican presidential nominee’s comment that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves “victims” who feel they’re “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Roe says Romney will win despite ’47 percent’ remark (Times News)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe predicted Thursday that GOP challenger Mitt Romney will still win the presidency despite Romney’s “47 percent” remark about Americans who support incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama because they are dependent upon government. “I might have stated it a little differently, but … we’ve got 105 million people who receive some (welfare) transfer payment…” Roe, R-Tenn., said when asked about Romney’s comment in a conference call with reporters. “Some of what these people pass off for work doesn’t pass the laugh test. Our people where we are (in Northeast Tennessee) know what work is.”

Write-in candidates jump into U.S. Senate race in Tennessee (N-S/Humphrey)

Eleven people have signed up to have their names counted as write-in candidates for the U.S. Senate, but the state Democratic Party has not endorsed one as an alternative to their disavowed nominee, Mark Clayton. Under state law, a voter can write in anyone’s name at the polls, but the vote will not be counted unless the named individual filed the appropriate paperwork with state election officials. The 11 candidates who met the deadline for doing so include two losers in the Aug. 2 Democratic U.S. Senate primary, Nashvillians Larry Crim and Gary Gene Davis, and one loser in the Republican primary, Fred R. Anderson of Maryville.

Strong August keep Smokies visits up (Associated Press)

A half-million more people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through August than during the first eight months of 2011. The National Park Service reported year-to-date tourist visits are up 8.8 percent over last year. Mild late summer weather resulted in a strong August, during which 1,052,790 people came to the 500,000-acre park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The monthly figure was 5 percent above August 2011. Park spokeswoman Molly Schroer said the year-to-date figure is about 3.4 percent above the five-year average attendance in the Smokies.

41 layoffs at K-25/K-27 cleanup projects (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

The U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup manager confirmed that 41 employees were laid off Thursday, reducing the workforce on the K-25 and K-27 decommissioning and demolition projects. Wayne McKinney, a spokesman for URS | CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR), said the job cuts were done to prepare for the transition to Fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1. McKinney said the layoff notices were issued among the subcontractors that have been augmenting the UCOR staff on the cleanup projects. He said the job cuts were part of the “normal ebb and flow” of the subcontractor workforce at the Oak Ridge site.

Mediation urged as trial moves forward in 2008 massive coal ash spill (NS/Marcum)

Plaintiffs suing TVA over the Kingston coal ash spill are asking a judge to order both parties to enter mediation before proceeding with the damages phase of a federal trial. The utility giant, however, wants U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan to go ahead with a trial for an initial round of plaintiffs but stay trial proceedings for other cases in the event that Varlan’s rulings end up before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Prompted by the December 2008 spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant, 872 plaintiffs have joined litigation filed in three rounds against TVA.

Florim plans $60M expansion in Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)

33 new jobs coming, Clarksville to become company’s distribution center Montgomery County’s international, high-end tile manufacturing plant is launching a major expansion here starting in November, the company has confirmed. Italian-owned Florim USA is adding 33 jobs to its payroll of about 300 through the two-phase, $60 million expansion. Company President Giovanni Grossi confirmed the details before the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board on Thursday. Grossi said the first half of the project is valued at about $30 million and starts in November, with phase 2 beginning sometime in early- to mid-2013.

Tennessee American Water customers object to water rate hike plan (TFP/Flessner)

Customers of Tennessee American Water and their political leaders complained Thursday that a proposed 24.9 percent increase in water rates, if adopted, could threaten some businesses and hurt many low-income consumers. “The outrageous and outlandish increases that Tennessee American is asking for will affect every single person they serve and hurt many single moms and seniors on fixed incomes,” state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, told state regulators at a public hearing Thursday night. “They keep coming every couple of years with huge increases and, at the rate they’re going, nobody is going to be able to afford their water.”

Study gauges high cost of avoidable hospital stays in Shelby County (CA/Sells)

An ounce of prevention could have been worth $87.9 million in Shelby County in 2009. More than 12,700 hospitalizations possibly could have been avoided that year if patients had seen a doctor before they got so sick they needed to go to the hospital, according to new numbers from the Healthy Memphis Common Table, the University of Memphis and the national Aligning Forces for Quality initiative. Most of the hospitalizations were for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Each hospitalization cost insurers and the government an average of $6,908. But the researchers said fault doesn’t lie solely on patients.

Judge ends courtroom part of trial on municipal school districts (CA/McMillin)

The courtroom portion of the trial on proposed municipal schools districts in Shelby County concluded just before noon Thursday with all parties agreeing to allow maps showing population figures for Gibson and Carroll counties to be submitted into evidence by Oct. 4. Federal District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays also directed attorneys involved to submit by Oct. 4 their final findings of fact and conclusions about the constitutionality of laws allowing municipal school districts. The judge will determine whether he needs to hear oral arguments. He said he will issue a ruling after Oct, 4.

Maps to be Entered as Evidence in Schools Case (Memphis Daily News)

All that’s left is a set of six maps. All sides in the federal court fight over municipal school districts on Thursday, Sept. 20, completed their proof before U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Hardy Mays on the issue of whether the state laws on the school districts violate the Tennessee Constitution. The day in court was mainly about whether a mapmaker for the Tennessee legislature would testify about maps she made of school-age populations in Gibson and Carroll counties. The hard-fought dispute was over whether the state laws could reasonably apply to other parts of the state outside Shelby County.

California Reconsiders “Three Strikes” (Stateline)

On June 29, 1992, 18-year-old Kimber Reynolds was leaving a Fresno restaurant with some friends when two men on a stolen motorcycle sped up and tried to snatch her purse. When Reynolds resisted, one of the men pulled a .357 Magnum out of his waistband, stuck it in the girl’s ear and pulled the trigger. She died 26 hours later. There were plenty of witnesses to the crime, and police quickly identified the shooter as Joseph Michael Davis, a hard-core methamphetamine user who had been jailed multiple times on drug and gun charges. Just two months before, Davis had been released from state prison after serving time for auto theft.

 

OPINION

 

Greg Johnson: UT should win in court, if not on field (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Defense! Defense! Defense! C’mon Chancellor Cheek, DEFENSE! Don’t let this bunch of super-sensitive, whiny secularists gain another yard. Get UT’s biggest lawyers ready to rush the courtroom. Put your quickest attorneys on the fast-talking woman from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Wisconsinite who’s lined up so far outside the mainstream of East Tennessee she’s clearly out of bounds. You’ve stopped ’em this time, Chancellor, but they’ll bring it harder next time. Fresh off intimidating UT-Chattanooga into a moment of silence, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, wrote University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek a “cease-and-desist” letter telling him to stop letting people pray before UT football games. Gaylor said she received a complaint from an unnamed UT alum and also heard from unnamed UT students who felt funny during prayer.

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