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November 24 TN News Digest

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

 

Haslam supports Dooley firing, won’t weigh in on next coach (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam – former Knoxville mayor and son of one of the University of Tennessee’s most prominent booster families – says he’s all for the decision to fire football coach Derek Dooley. “Ultimately college football at a school as big as Tennessee, it is about results. I like Derek a lot. I think he in a lot of ways brought a lot of things to the program … but for Tennessee to have the football program they need, they need to have a better won-lost record than they’ve had for the last three years.”

Disappointing audit of TN Investco program not deterring firms (MBJ)

A report from the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on the Tennessee Investco program found major problems with the administration of the program, but not with the program itself. While the state Department of Economic and Community Development takes steps to correct those issues, the Memphis and Nashville-based venture capital firms that have invested Investco funds in Memphis-based startups continue to move forward. The money for the program was raised through the sale of $205 million in tax credits offered to insurance companies in 2010.

Corn Prices Weigh on TN Livestock Farmers (TN Report)

While grain producers in Tennessee are having a bumper year, those same market forces are making feed more expensive for cattle and poultry farmers, the state’s top Agriculture official said. “Various droughts around the world have reduced our inventories to the point that prices are extremely good for the grain farmers. We went through somewhat of a drought this year, but actually recovered with a decent crop in a lot of cases,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said during a state budget hearing earlier this month.

DCS’s payments, penalties under fire (Gannett/Gonzalez)

One of Tennessee’s most successful reforms in caring for abused children has come under criticism recently, forcing the state to consider changes that have major implications for the well-being of kids and how millions of dollars are spent. In recent months, the Department of Children’s Services found itself in urgent discussions with the 30 private companies and nonprofits that the department pays to clinically treat children in state custody. Many of the companies have become dissatisfied with a DCS program that levies cash penalties and bonuses based on how the agencies care for children.

Hamilton County’s troubled schools still fall behind peers (TFP/Hardy)

The Tennessee Department of Education already had designated five Hamilton County schools among the worst-performing in the state. But recently released data show just how far these schools have fallen. While the county and state made steady improvement on standardized tests in 2012, Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary remained relatively flat. And their scores were already well behind state and county averages. Hamilton County Schools will apply for a state grant next month to create a local School Innovation Zone, or i-zone.

Law over guns in parking lots is back before TN legislature (AP/Schelzig)

Leaders in the state legislature are hoping for what they call a reasonable solution to a legislative fight over a bill seeking to guarantee employees the right to store firearms in cars parked at work. But not everyone is convinced that cooler heads will prevail over the issue that has Republicans torn between their loyalties to gun rights advocates and the business community. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry “doesn’t have any hope” that there will be an obvious way to bridge competing interests between gun and property rights advocates, said Bill Ozier, the group’s chairman.

Another fight over guns looms in Tennessee legislature (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gun rights advocates and big business are loading up for another battle in the Tennessee legislature over whether business and property owners should be allowed to ban employees and the public from bringing guns stowed in locked vehicles onto their properties. The issue has dominated the legislature’s gun debates since lawmakers in 2010 allowed handgun-carry permit holders to carry guns into places serving alcohol, if the proprietor doesn’t ban them and if the permit holder isn’t drinking alcohol.

Jobs, growth push Chattanooga planning in Summit community (TFP/Sohn)

With more than 5,000 jobs created over the last three years at Volkswagen, Amazon and other Enterprise South-area businesses, city and county planners are looking to guide growth in the nearby community of Summit. The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency is making a land-use plan for the area between Interstate 75 near Enterprise South and Old Lee Highway — an area the city has annexed. John Bridger, executive director of the planning agency, said officials met about a month ago with residents of the area to discuss needs and wants associated with the completion of the I-75/Apison Pike interchange connector road and proposed widening of Apison Pike.

Billboad email upsets some commissioners, attorney (News-Sentinel/Donila)

In an email accidentally sent to the Knox County Commission, the president of Scenic Knoxville says the organization should continue its “inflammatory” campaign and that she plans to start “naming names” of commissioners who don’t side with its efforts. The email, which Joyce Feld meant to send Tuesday to the organization’s board, hasn’t gone over well with some commissioners or the lawyer for Lamar Advertising, which has the largest presence in the area. “The email is extremely unfortunate because it reveals that certain individuals are more interested in heavy handed tactics such as Internet intimidation as opposed to a good faith debate on the issues before county commission,” said attorney Gregory P. Isaacs.

Allegations swirl in Pigeon Forge liquor vote (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

There’s no toasting this tally. The suspicious vote total on a liquor-by-the-drink referendum has widened a rift between residents and citizens’ groups on opposite ends of this hot-button issue. Since the Nov. 6 result — with the pro-liquor vote winning by 100 votes but with another 303 ballots in question — charges and countercharges have erupted, and all sides are lawyering up. Liquor foes say the vote total is suspect, with hundreds of ballots in dispute, and that group has filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the referendum results incurably flawed.

DesJarlais’ ability draws doubt (Daily News Journal)

Amid revelations that he slept with patients and agreed to let his ex-wife to have two abortions, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is facing questions from within the GOP about his ability to serve the 4th Congressional District. State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, said this week he would rather have someone such as state Sens. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville or Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro serve the redrawn district because of their sensitivity to Rutherford County’s needs. “I just think it would be wise for Rutherford County to rally behind someone who knows our issues,” Sparks said, though he likes DesJarlais’ conservative voting record.

Wamp eyes future DesJarlais challenge (Associated Press)

A young man with a political pedigree is one of few Republicans publicly criticizing U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and says he won’t rule out making a primary election run in the 4th District. DesJarlais says his views have evolved since he supported abortions by his former wife and said he will not resign although he deeply regrets past relationships with multiple women, including patients and co-workers. Weston Wamp, 25, lost a Republican primary in August to incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.

Weston Wamp has eye on DesJarlais district (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

When Weston Wamp steps outside his Lookout Valley home and looks west, he sees Elder Mountain on the horizon. Political translation: He’s within striking distance of Marion County, one of 16 counties in U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ sprawling 4th Congressional District. The geography isn’t lost on Wamp as DesJarlais attempts to overcome a scandal that demolished his image as an anti-abortion, family-values doctor. Four days after calling DesJarlais “kind of a creepy guy” on a Chattanooga television show, Wamp said he’s weighing a 4th District Republican primary challenge.

Meningitis outbreak: Lawmakers question drug purchasing groups (TN/Roche)

The U.S. General Accountability Office has been asked to investigate whether a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis was triggered, at least in part, by the contracting efforts of health care purchasing alliances including Brentwood-based HealthTrust Purchasing Group. The probe request follows a series of House and Senate hearings into the cause of the meningitis outbreak, which has sickened at least 492 patients and killed 34, including 13 in Tennessee.

Grant would help eradicate ‘food deserts’ (Tennessean/DeVille)

Residents in Nashville’s “food desert” neighborhoods hope a proposed statewide grant program will soon bring a full-service supermarket to their communities. The Tennessee Grocery Access Task Force recently announced plans to create a $10 million incentive to encourage independent grocers to open in such neighborhoods across Tennessee. The program would assist grocers in purchasing refrigeration equipment for new stores. A recent study by The Food Trust found that nearly a million Tennesseans, including more than 200,000 children, live in food deserts, communities where there are no supermarkets and little access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Metro Nashville Schools waiver curbs tutoring business (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s decision to opt out of the No Child Left Behind Act marked the end for dozens of private tutoring companies. For a decade, school districts across the state were required to set aside millions of dollars in federal funds each year for after-school tutoring targeted at low-income students at underperforming schools. The program known as Supplementary Educational Services gave rise to an industry of private tutoring companies, which offered their services to eligible students at no charge.

Talks about municipal schools end; judge’s ruling requested (CA/Bailey, McMillin)

Mediation talks over new municipal school districts ended without agreement Friday, and the sides now expect U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to issue a ruling next week on the constitutionality of the state laws that enabled Shelby County suburbs to pursue separate districts. “We just came to a consensus that we weren’t going anywhere, we were deadlocked and that we would go ahead and let the judge make his ruling on the first part of the case,” said Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald.

Tax break debate resurfaces on Shelby County unified schools agenda (CA/Kelley)

Unified school board commissioner Freda Williams has a resolution on the board’s agenda Tuesday aimed at recapturing some of the education funding annually lost to tax abatement for new and expanding businesses. Williams’ “Resolution requesting revisions to Memphis and Shelby County PILOTs” appeals to the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County, A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell, to appoint members of the school board to the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board.

 

OPINION 

Guest columnist: Charter Schools Succeeding (Tennessean)

When school reform advocates gained state approval for charter schools in 2002, it was on the basis that charters would accept a high standard of accountability for their new responsibility of educating public school students. In effect, charters must deliver on what they promise — strong academic progress and performance — or face closure for chronically poor performance. Before the legislative amendment in 2011 that opened charter school enrollment to all students, state law required that only students classified as “at risk,” defined by a failing grade on the TCAP, an assignment to a failing school, or the receipt of free or reduced-price lunch, could enroll in a charter school. Therefore, it is very common that students enrolled in charter schools entered several academic years behind their grade level.

Times Editorial: The roots of ‘failing’ schools (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

When the county school system applied for a state “innovation-zone” grant in the previous school year to boost lagging student achievement scores in impoverished urban schools, it failed. With better proposals, Nashville and Memphis received about $27 million from the state’s Race to the Top federal award to improve urban student achievement. By contrast, Hamilton County’s school district was given $600,000 to help it devise a more worthy “I-Zone” plan. School officials here now say they’re ready to try again next month for an I-Zone grant. Here’s hoping for a successful application. Report card data recently released by the county school system, described elsewhere in the Times Free Press today by education reporter Kevin Hardy, underscores why the five designated I-Zone schools here need serious help.

Greg Johnson: Obamacare more costly than presented (News-Sentinel)

We are officially thankful for many things, but Obamacare is not one of them. For, alas, dear reader, Obamacare has brutally bruised Tennessee’s budget, regardless of whether Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican-dominated Legislature establish a health insurance exchange or opt not to expand Medicaid. In the spirit of the bipartisanship so suddenly embraced by so many two-plus years after Democrats crafted the Affordable Care Act with zero Republican input and then passed it by reconciliation on a party-line vote, we told you so. Haslam earned a reprieve last week when the Department of Health and Human Services extended the deadline to Dec. 14 for letting the feds know whether Tennessee will run the health insurance exchange mandated by the Affordable Care Act or let President Barack Obama deal with it.

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