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November 9 TN News Digest

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

 

Haslam announces Community Development Block Grant recipients (B. Clarksville)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced six recipients of Community Development Block Grants that will assist with infrastructure improvements in area communities. The grant recipients included Bedford County, Jasper, McMinn County, Petersburg, Pulaski and Tellico Plains. Today’s announcement is the final 2012 CDBG announcement. A complete list of 2012 CDBG recipients can be viewed here: http://www.openecd.tn.gov/cdbg.html.

Tennessee, Nissan to cooperate on worker education (Marshall County Tribune)

Nissan North America and Tennessee officials are negotiating toward a worker training center in Smyrna, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday in Lewisburg. Nissan is to provide land for a state school to train Tennesseans to work in the Japanese-owned factory, Haslam said, confirming information received here before this week’s election.”We’re working on a deal,” the governor said. “We’ll have one of our technology centers, instead of being at a separate location, it would actually be on their campus.

Haslam still studying health exchange in wake of election (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s course on setting up health care exchanges under federal reform remains uncertain for the moment, but Gov. Bill Haslam says he favors a state-led process that would also mean tax benefits for businesses. With the re-election of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, Tuesday, it became clear his health care overhaul would remain in place. That means the state can elect to set up publicly run exchanges — off of which the uninsured can buy insurance — or let the feds do it. Haslam, who has previously said he favors a state-run exchange, said Wednesday that’s still his thinking, but that he’s awaiting additional information from the federal government.

TN to decide on health exchanges next week (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam said his administration will decide whether Tennessee should set up its own health insurance exchanges next week, just ahead of a Nov. 16 deadline set by the federal health care reform law. Haslam said Thursday that TennCare officials are still waiting for federal regulators to clarify some of the rules for an exchange, envisioned under the Affordable Care Act as a marketplace where the uninsured can buy health coverage at affordable rates. States have until the end of next week to submit their blueprints for their own exchanges or turn responsibility over to the federal government.

Tennessee official says state should sell two Chattanooga offices (TFP/Sher)

A top Tennessee official is recommending to Gov. Bill Haslam that he sell the State Office Building and the nearby James R. Mapp Building in Chattanooga. The buildings near downtown are among six statewide that General Services Commissioner Steve Cates says are “functionally obsolete” and should be sold given costs for renovation and operations. The estimated price tag for fixing the seven-story, 47,269-square-foot Chattanooga State Office Building is $8.49 million. The iconic 58-year-old building, at 540 McCallie Ave., was originally owned by Interstate Accident and Life Insurance Co.

Tennessee may sell Donnelly J. Hill Building on Civic Center Plaza (CA/Locker)

After months of review, a state agency is proposing to sell the 44-year-old Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis. The agency that manages state-owned real estate recommended putting the building on the market rather than spend the estimated $9.2 million it would take to renovate it. The 12-story state building shares Civic Center Plaza with City Hall, the County Administration Building and the main Federal Building in Memphis. But it’s up to Gov. Bill Haslam whether to approve that proposal submitted to him by General Services Commissioner Steven G. Cates during state budget hearings on Wednesday.

DCS commissioner seeking more than $8M from state (Associated Press/Johnson)

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services requested more than $8 million on Thursday to hire new staff and make other improvements to the agency that has been highly scrutinized over children’s deaths. Commissioner Kate O’Day and her staff met with Gov. Bill Haslam during budget hearings for fiscal year 2013-14. Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent spending cut as a fallback. O’Day said part of the money would be used to hire more case workers and attorneys, grant pay increases and make adjustments in caring for foster children.

Embattled DCS seeks $8.6M budget increase (City Paper/Zelinski)

The embattled Department of Children Services is asking for an $8.6 million budget increase next year, largely to hire more caseworkers and increase payments to parents who adopt and foster children. The funding request comes as the department is in the spotlight after revealing that 31 children it had investigated died in the first six months of this year. “I think these are issues that are very much in front of everyone,” said Kathryn O’Day, DCS commissioner.

DCS seeks funds to hire more caseworkers (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services wants $5.6 million in state funds added to its budget for next fiscal year, in part to hire more caseworkers — and case managers with better qualifications — to work with abused and neglected children. DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day presented her proposal for the agency’s budget Thursday morning, outlining cuts to administrative staffing and increases for caseworkers. “Child safety is one of the most important things that we do in state government,” O’Day said.

Glitches Aside, DCS Asks for $5M Extra Next Year (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services is asking for millions of dollars to hire more social workers and lawyers, and give raises to its investigators. DCS has been under fire, for among other things struggling to track required data on kids in its custody. A glitchy new computer system has confounded workers, and threatened to land DCS back in court when it couldn’t produce data required under the Brian A. legal settlement. Commissioner Kathryn O’Day assured Governor Bill Haslam her department will be caught up on it within the next few months.

TDOT Taking ‘Ford Fiesta’ Approach to Road Projects (TN Report)

Tennessee transportation officials say they want to put more emphasis on improving existing roadways, rather than building new projects that entail costly land acquisition and environmental reviews. Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer said during a state budget hearing Wednesday that an agency focus on “right-sizing” will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. “We’re going to the very beginning and saying, OK, what’s the minimum we can do to fix this project?” Schroer said.

Fmr. Safety Dept. Employee Admits to Taking $20K in Bribes for Licenses, Permits (TN Report)

A former Tennessee Department of Safety employee pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to one count of accepting more than $5,000 in bribes related to issuing driver’s licenses and permits to unauthorized individuals. Larry Murphy, 54, of Antioch, had been charged with one count of accepting bribes and one count of conspiracy to produce identification documents without lawful authority while employed as a supervisory license examiner for the Department of Safety at the Hart Lane licensing facility in Nashville, according to court documents.

Meningitis outbreak: TN pharmacy takes clean to extreme (TN/Marsteller)

When inspectors described what they found inside a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy linked to a national fungal meningitis outbreak, Cindy Smith made her pharmacy staff read the report. They read about mold and bacteria in two “clean rooms” that were supposed to be sterile. They read about labeling errors that made it difficult to tell sterile and non-sterile ingredients apart. They read details about “yellow residue” and “green residue” and other unknown foreign substances on various pieces of equipment.

Tenn. Higher Education Commission grades teacher training programs (TFP/Bunn)

More than 25 percent of teacher training programs in Tennessee produce new teachers who are less effective than their peers in two or more subjects, according to a state report. About 28 percent of standard teacher training programs — most of which are in the state’s public and private colleges and universities — may not do as well as alternative teaching programs, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs states.

Student debt lower in Tennessee than rest of U.S. (Times Free-Press/Garrett)

The amount of debt carried by college students is going down. Last year, the average debt for a U.S. college student was $26,600, a national survey shows. But while regional college debt mounts with rising tuition costs, students in and around the Tennessee Valley are faring better than elsewhere, according to the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the Institute for College Access and Success. Student debt in Tennessee — $20,703 on average — and North Carolina — $20,800 on average — ranks as some of the lowest in the country, according to the survey.

Robinson to retire as UT diversity vice president (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

University of Tennessee’s top diversity officer and one of the first black students to integrate the campus in 1961 will retire in January 2014. President Joe DiPietro told trustees Thursday that Theotis Robinson’s position will be eliminated when he steps down, and his responsibilities of recruiting and retaining diverse students and faculty will fall to the campuses. The Knoxville campus also announced Thursday its first-ever vice chancellor for diversity, University of Minnesota administrator Ricky Hall. Hall will start in June 2013.

Trustees give tentative OK to 2nd raise for DiPietro (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro will make $25,000 more than he did five months ago, after trustees tentatively approved a second raise in as many months. The 3.5 percent performance-based raise comes on top of a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase all employees received in June, which bumped his salary $10,000. DiPietro will now make $445,567, which will be retroactive through June. “It’s important we have leadership capable of doing the things that need to be done here, and I think that’s the way you keep good people, to treat them fairly,” said Vice Chair Don Stansberry, who recommended the raise.

Harwell: Widespread Hunger in House for Another Slice Off Grocery Tax (TNR)

Lowering the sales tax on food, overhauling workers’ compensation, the possible expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee and school vouchers will likely be top topics for debate, state House Speaker Beth Harwell said Thursday when discussing the GOP’s 2013 legislative agenda. “I’ll think we’ll make another move to lower the sales tax on food in the state,” the Nashville Republican said, pointing to Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lower the tax bite to 5 percent — equal to about $9.60 less in taxes for a household in a year, based on average spending of $3,838 a year for groceries.

Tidwell won despite vulnerabilities (Leaf Chronicle)

Day underperformed compared to Republicans State Rep. John Tidwell comfortably won his ninth term in the Tennessee House Tuesday with a five percent lead over his Republican challenger Laurie Day, but Tidwell’s weak performance in western Montgomery County shows how vulnerable Tidwell may have been against a stronger Republican challenger. Even though Day beat Tidwell in the six Clarksville precincts voting in District 74, she was still the lowest performing Republican candidate on the ballot. Tidwell, the incumbent, lost Montgomery County by about eight percentage points.

DCS Commissioner Should Resign, Says Rep. Jones (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A state lawmaker is calling for the resignation of Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day. DCS has been struggling to keep track of information on kids in its custody, and Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones says she’s fed up. Representative Jones argues little has improved at DCS since O’Day took over:“Under her leadership the past two years, things are not getting better. They’re getting worse. And I have a lot more people coming to me with issues of children not eating, being hurt, and when I try to deal with the department on it, I get no response.”

As business takes hit, Tennessee leaders seek more influence (Nash. Biz Journal)

Some of Tennessee’s most prominent business advocates are wrestling with whether to create a super PAC or other partnership to combat a wave of conservative cash gunning for control of the state’s Republican Party. The talks, among a range of business leaders, lobbyists and political operatives, are marked by differing views on how aggressive any effort should be. They involve major groups like the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and — according to numerous sources — come on the heels of a failed last-minute attempt to guard state Rep. Debra Maggart, a pro-business conservative who came under attack by the National Rifle Association in this summer’s primary.

Devaney Officially Running for Reelection at TNGOP (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Chairman of Tennessee’s Republican Party is asking for another term. Making his case in an email to party members, Chris Devaney points to gains in this week’s election that give the GOP a supermajority in both the state House and Senate and says Mitt Romney won the state by a largest margin any Republican Presidential nominee has ever enjoyed in Tennessee. He goes on to say that he’d make a priority of winning even more legislative seats on the next ballot.

After another successful election cycle, Devaney seeks re-election (CP/Hale)

After presiding over two of the most successful election cycles in the party’s history, Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney said Thursday he’d like to come back for more. The news comes two days after Republicans obtained unprecedented majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, an accomplishment Devaney cited in a letter announcing his intention to run for re-election as chairman to members of the party’s executive committee.

Devaney wants to stay as Tennessee GOP head (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney says he is running for re-election. In a letter to state GOP Executive Committee members, the Lookout Mountain resident cites Republican strides in Tuesday’s election in which GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried Tennessee by some 20 points, although losing nationally. Devaney also pointed to the easy re-election of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and the state’s seven congressman as well as “supermajorities” won in the state House and Senate.

Hamilton County voters cast fewer ballots than in 2008 (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Contrary to optimistic predictions, 6,000 fewer Hamilton County voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s presidential election than in 2008, failing to break a record set that year. Lower turnout happened despite high voter registration levels, including 17,000 new voters added to county rolls in the last four years. Last week, county Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said she expected Tuesday’s turnout to obliterate 2008’s. Instead, participation declined 4.3 percent, from 148,480 ballots in 2008 to 142,056 this year, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Bredesen writing, crusading, promoting and eyeing another career (NS/Humphrey)

Philip Norman Bredesen is writing a book, crusading for bipartisanship and federal debt reduction, promoting the study of humanities, making speeches, keeping track of investments taken out of a blind trust and contemplating what to do next. “I’ve got another career in me. I’ll figure out what it is in a while,” he said in an interview last week. Three weeks shy of his 69th birthday, Bredesen joked that “I think I’ve gotten younger, actually” since watching Bill Haslam take the oath of office to succeed him as governor of Tennessee almost two years ago — an event he described as “sort of an out-of-body experience.”

Rep. Jim Cooper says he will defend retirement benefits (Tennessean/Brown)

Leaders from local unions and Nashville’s black community on Thursday pressed U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper to protect federal retirement benefits amid looming talks about dealing with the country’s debt. The Democratic congressman from Nashville, who won re-election on Tuesday, will be heading back to Washington soon to deal with the country’s debt and try to avoid what’s being called the “fiscal cliff” — the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and the implementation of across-the-board cuts to defense spending and social programs.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe has a lot on his plate (Bristol Herald-Courier)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe has a lot on his plate. Just two days after the big election, the Johnson City Republican said Congress is facing a myriad of budget issues, sometimes referred to as the fiscal cliff, before the end of the year. It also will be confronted with mandatory budget cuts, the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the payroll tax holiday. “We have got to do all this in the next six weeks,” Roe said Thursday during a meeting of the Tip Club. Congress delayed decisions on these issues until after the election.

With Obama Re-Elected, States Scramble Over Health Law (New York Times)

After nearly three years of legal and political threats that kept President Obama’s health care law in a constant state of uncertainty, his re-election on Tuesday all but guarantees that the historic legislation will survive. Now comes another big hurdle: making it work. The election came just 10 days before a critical deadline for states in carrying out the law, and many that were waiting for the outcome must now hustle to comply. Such efforts will coincide with epic negotiations between Mr. Obama and Congress over federal spending and taxes, where the administration will inevitably face pressure to scale back some of the costliest provisions of the law.

Nature taking its course: TVA to let river dilute residual Kingston ash (TFP/Sohn)

TVA decision to leave 500,000 cubic yards of spilled coal ash in the Clinch and Emory rivers near Kingston, Tenn., is drawing mixed reactions. “Five hundred cubic yards is enough coal ash to fill a football field almost 94 feet high from end zone to end zone,” said Donna Lisenby, the Watauga Riverkeeper who helped bring attention to the Kingston ash spill when an earthen landfill dam collapsed on Dec. 22, 2008, and dumped 5.2 million cubic yards of wet coal ash over 400 acres of then-residential farm land and the Emory River.

Nissan Pulls Plug on Battery Plant Grand Opening (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The grand opening of Nissan’s new electric car battery plant in Smyrna has been cancelled. A spokesperson for the automaker says scheduling conflicts have been encountered “among key stakeholders.” The plant quietly started producing lithium-ion batteries last month, according to the company. And the first Nissan Leaf made in the U.S. is still supposed to roll off the nearby assembly line around the first of the year. Nissan received a $1.4 billion loan from the federal government to build the battery plant and retool an existing vehicle production line.

Music City Center loses out on conventions because of hotel void (Tenn/Garrison)

The man tasked with booking Nashville’s new Music City Center maintains the $585 million facility is losing would-be conventions because of a dearth of luxury hotels even with the city’s new 800-room Omni Hotel coming online. For Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, the quandary has set up a policy consideration: Is the shortage serious enough to warrant tax incentives to spur the construction of a private hotel south of Broadway?

Visiting educators tour Metro, see career academies in action (Tennessean/Lewis)

A trip to Oahu is a dream vacation for many, but this week, 40 islanders are in Nashville. What brings them and 860 others from across the country is the 16th annual National Career Academy Coalition conference, where educators, school district leaders and community members are congregating through Sunday to discuss career academies. Metro Nashville high schools, which fully implemented the curriculum restructuring a few years ago, are seen as a model for reshaping programs of study based on career clusters or students’ individual interests.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: State budget hearings shed some light on local issues (Jackson Sun)

As Gov. Bill Haslam’s annual budget hearings continue, we are gaining insight into issues and opportunities facing the state and local communities. Of particular note was budget testimony from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation head Mark Gwyn. Gwyn’s presentation included increased TBI focus on fighting the rise of gang activity in Tennessee’s smaller communities. That is a problem Jackson-Madison County and other West Tennessee rural communities have faced in recent years. Gwyn’s budget request of $70.9 million is $1.5 million less than last year. Gwyn told Haslam that TBI’s main focus will be on gangs and the illegal drug trade. The two criminal activities often go hand in hand.

Guest columnist: Get over divisive campaign and get onto restoring nation (Tenn)

Here in Tennessee, the results of the 2012 elections seem a bit surreal — with Republicans gaining a supermajority in the state legislature even as the nation decisively re-elected President Barack Obama and rejected the hard-right conservatism offered by the Republican Party. On the national scene, President Obama was re-elected because his economic policies have helped the economy begin to recover from the deep recession, and a majority of voters agreed that slow-but-steady growth was preferable to the return to discredited economics advocated by the Republican nominee. Yet here in Tennessee, voters chose to turn a “red state” an even deeper shade of red, handing Republicans a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

Editorial: Republicans must solve DesJarlais situation (Jackson Sun)

On the heels of a thrashing his Democratic challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais continued to do what he does best: play the blame game. Instead of showing contrition for his actions during a nasty divorce that started in 1998, throughout the campaign and on election night the South Pittsburg physician blamed his opponents and “liberal media” for gutter politics. Apparently, it is bad form for the media to report that a pro-life, pro-family values congressman had four girlfriends while married, including two who were patients and one he urged to get an abortion — clear medical ethics violations. This is a double standard of epic proportions, one in which the Republican Party demands moral purity of everyone but their political leaders.

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