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January 12 TN News Digest

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

JSCC and 6 tech centers sign pact (Jackson Sun)

Agreement to help transfer students education leaders across West Tennessee joined on Friday to finalize plans to help transfer college students and prepare for a potential boost in local manufacturing opportunities. Administration members from Jackson State Community College and six Tennessee Technology Center campuses met in JSCC’s Ned R. McWherter Center for Advanced Industrial Technologies at 1 p.m. to sign papers allowing upcoming TTC graduates an easier transition to JSCC. Plans for the agreement began in October 2011.

Gearing up (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Benton)

Grants fund training for more than 800 Nissan production, administration jobs The Nissan plant in Decherd, Tenn., and an associated company, Yates Services, are in line for about $3.8 million in state FastTrack Job Training Assistance grants to fund training for about 850 new jobs at the facility in Franklin County. Nissan, which experienced 10 percent growth in sales in 2012, also has had “significant” growth at the engine assembly plant in Decherd, originally opened in 1997, which builds four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines, company officials said.

ID check beefed up for licenses in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Beginning this spring, Tennesseans who apply for or renew driver’s licenses also are going to have their identities checked. Customers at driver service centers or county clerks’ offices will leave with paper “interim” licenses. Meanwhile, the state will take a week to run their pictures through photo-recognition technology and compare them against 12 million images in a database. “It is compared to many other faces to make sure you are who you say you are,” said Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Watchdog Children’s Rights fears for DCS kids (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Judge asked to force release of death records A national child advocacy organization with deep knowledge of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has asked a federal judge to force the department to turn over child death records, saying the agency may be “putting children at risk of harm.” Children’s Rights, the New York-based firm that first sued the department over its treatment of foster children in 2000 and has kept close watch ever since, filed a motion in federal court Thursday after DCS repeatedly refused to provide records on child fatalities from 2011 and 2012.

DCS says 73 children died in 2012 (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

There were 42 children who died in the last half of 2012 after coming to the attention of the Department of Children’s Services, according to data obtained today by The Tennessean. An additional 18 children in Tennessee experienced life-threatening injuries even after DCS had been brought in to investigate, according to data provided by DCS. The numbers are preliminary, DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said. They could increase as the department receives further notifications of deaths or near deaths of children from 2012, she said.

Camden man’s gun permit suspended after rant (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security on Friday suspended the handgun-carry permit of a Camden, Tenn., man who made a YouTube threat that he would “start killing people” if the Obama administration acted to restrict guns. The agency said the decision to suspend the permit of James Yeager, 42, was based “on a material likelihood of risk of harm to the public,” a provision in the state’s handgun-carry permit law that allows for permit revocation.

Camden man’s gun permit suspended (Jackson Sun)

James Yeager, 42, of Camden, had his handgun carry permit suspended after posting a video on YouTube where he allegedly claimed he would “start killing people” if President Barack Obama’s administration took executive action to pass gun control measures, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. In the video titled “Pack Your Bags,” Yeager starts by saying he received a news update that Vice President Joe Biden is asking the president to bypass Congress and use an executive order to ban assault rifles and force stricter gun control.

Online Rant Catches State’s Attention (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A Tennessee man’s handgun carry permit has been suspended over comments he made in an online video which went viral. James Yeager is the CEO of a firearms and tactical training school in Camden. In the video, he rails against the possibility that President Obama might use an executive order as a way of tightening gun control. Yeager says that could spark a civil war and that he’s ready to fire the first shot. “I am not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further, I’m gonna start killing people.” It’s that last statement that lead the state to suspend Yaeger’s license.

Contractor tops off steel work on MTSU science building (Daily News Journal)

MTSU and Turner Construction celebrated the topping out of the new Science Building on campus Friday. Around 12:30 p.m., the final steel beam, complete with signatures from Turner Construction Company employees and contractors, MTSU officials, staff, faculty and students and even Rutherford County legislative delegation members, was raised to its final position at the construction site. “A topping out ceremony is a significant milestone for any building that we build, and it is a tribute to our guys, our labor force who has done a fantastic job to very safely build a quality building,” said John Gromos, vice president and general manager of Turner Construction Company.

Beth Harwell’s power grows as she weighs political future (Tennessean/Sisk)

Beth Harwell, the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, scowled in concentration. Sitting in her office in the state Capitol — a room decorated with pictures testifying to her close working relationships with Gov. Bill Haslam and other top Tennessee Republicans — Harwell contemplated her answers with a veteran politician’s discipline. The interview was vintage Harwell. She gave carefully tailored answers that left not a word behind as scrap.

Tenn. meth production high despite tracking (Associated Press/Loller)

A new state law requiring the real-time tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases does not seem to have decreased methamphetamine production in Tennessee. Beginning in January 2012, pharmacists were required to use a database to track sales of the over-the-counter drugs used to produce meth. Pseudoephedrine is the main drug, but there are others. Collectively they are known as pharmacy precursors. Despite the database, a report from the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability found meth lab incidents between January and September 2012 were 6 percent higher than during the same period in 2011.

Conservative talk show host Steve Gill to leave radio (Tennessean/White)

Lawyer known for fight against state income tax Former congressional hopeful and vocal Tennessee income tax opponent Steve Gill is ending his nationally syndicated radio show after 15 years on the air. The Steve Gill Show will broadcast for a final time on Jan. 31 or Feb. 1, Gill said. Gill, a Brentwood attorney, said he is ending the show so he can focus on other business ventures, including speaking engagements and consulting, through his company Gill Media Inc. He said he also wants to continue as a political analyst on News 2 WKRN.

Meningitis outbreak: Drug compounder eyes pricey law firm (Tennessean/Roche)

The Massachusetts drug compounding firm blamed for a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that has hit 140 Tennesseans is seeking bankruptcy court approval to hire a high-priced Washington, D.C., law firm to represent it in an ongoing congressional investigation. In a petition filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Boston, lawyers for the New England Compounding Center are seeking approval to hire the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld at rates of up to $1,200 an hour. According to the petition, the Washington law firm already has been paid a $150,000 retainer by a sister drug company, Ameridose LLC.

Pigeon Forge liquor licenses likely safe for now (News-Sentinel/Balloch)

Cocktails are still being served and consumed, but in a state of limbo. With a new election ordered to determine whether liquor by the drink can legally be served here, the 11 businesses that have already obtained state licenses may continue to do so — maybe for a few days, maybe until the next election or maybe for at least another year, even if the legality is overturned in the new election. Licenses to serve liquor by the drink must be renewed each year. “It will be business as usual, until we are instructed otherwise,” said Tom Horne, director of operations for the Mellow Mushroom and three other restaurants that obtained licenses from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission after the controversial Nov. 6 referendum made liquor by the drink legal.

TVA Done With Sequoyah Maintenance (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Work on the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant’s Unit Two reactor is finished ahead of schedule and under budget. The Tennessee Valley Authority replaced four large steam generators that had reached the end of their lifespan. The $376 million update involved lifting the top off the containment building with a massive crane. Meanwhile, the utility is still working to build the second unit at another of its nuclear facilities. The Watts Barr project fell three years behind schedule and will cost at least 2 billion more than was initially projected. Officials now say it’s on track to go online in late 2015.

Sequoyah reactor work complete (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

TVA’s tricky job of cutting two holes in the roof of a Sequoyah Nuclear Plant reactor to extract and replace four steam generators has come to a safe end, according to officials. Tennessee Valley Authority announced Friday that the plant’s Unit 2 reactor is making electricity again after the three-month job was completed seven days early. The work — along with regular refueling and maintenance — also came in under the projected $376 million budget, according to TVA spokesman Ray Golden.

Y-12 security breach costs B&W $12.2M in fee (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

B&W Y-12, the government’s managing contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, had its annual fee chopped by $12.2 million because of the unprecedented security breach that occurred under its watch. The fee reduction for Fiscal Year 2012, which concluded Sept. 30, was posted Friday on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s website. However, the NNSA, a semi-independent part of the U.S. Department of Energy, has not yet released B&W’s full performance evaluation for 2012.

American Esoteric Labs lays off 65 local employees (Memphis Biz Journal)

Memphis-based American Esoteric Laboratories, feeling the pressure of an increasingly difficult-to-navigate reimbursement environment, announced it has reduced its Memphis-based work force by 65 employees, or 10 percent. According to David L. Smalley, president at AEL, the “shifting health care reimbursement environment” forced the company to consolidate its local financial services division into that of its parent company, Sonic Healthcare USA. Affected employees were given severance packages and outplacement services, Smalley indicated in a statement e-mailed to MBJ.

Metro Touts School-Choice Lottery Ahead of Vouchers Push (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Metro Schools will hold its lottery tomorrow for thousands of students hoping to get into certain popular schools. The district is touting the revamped lottery as part of a push to give families lots of options. It comes as state lawmakers are pondering a vouchers program that would send more kids to private schools. Backers of the vouchers idea say it could help poor kids trapped in failing schools, by giving them another option, and helping them afford a private education instead. But Metro spokeswoman Meredith Libbey says a quarter of students in the district – around 20 thousand – don’t stick with their default school.

Making Sense of the Merger (Memphis Daily News)

There are several certainties for public education in Shelby County when the new school year begins in August. Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools will be consolidated into a single countywide system and there will be more competition than most Memphians can remember in their lifetimes for that single consolidated school system. Public schools in the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County will be part of the consolidated school system for at least the first year of the merger.

Cash departure eases transition to unified Shelby County schools (CA/Kelley)

The unified school board’s ready acceptance of an agreement calling for six months’ severance pay for the departing Memphis City Schools Supt. Kriner Cash accomplished two important goals — giving one person the responsibility of leading the transition to a consolidated Memphis and Shelby County school system and avoiding payment of additional legal fees that might have resulted from a contract dispute. Cash, continuing to draw his current salary, remains superintendent through the end of January and will serve as an adviser to Memphis City Schools through July 31.

Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash resigns (Memphis Biz Journal)

Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash has resigned from his position, according to multiple media reports. At a specially called meeting of the countywide school board, Cash said he had “great sadness and hope and encouragement for what I’ve often said has become the second love of my life,” according to a Memphis Daily News report. The board approved Cash’s resignation which keeps him on in an advisory role through July. He will be paid his normal salary until then and will receive six more months salary and $17,000 in moving and legal expenses as part of his severance.

Memphis suburbs file final brief in Shelby municipal schools lawsuit (CA/McMillin)

Attorneys for six suburban Shelby County municipalities filed their final arguments late Thursday for why a federal judge should uphold two laws that would lift the statewide ban on new municipal or special school districts after this summer’s expected completion of the merger of Memphis City Schools with Shelby County Schools. The 20-page brief from the Burch Porter & Johnson law firm representing the suburbs in litigation over the future of Shelby County’s public schools joins a nine-page brief filed earlier this week by the state, which is aligned with the suburbs as defendants.

Time Running Out for Real Decisions on Schools (Memphis Daily News)

Change is nothing new for parents when it comes to education. School attendance zone boundaries change as schools fill up or empty out. Teachers and principals who make a difference retire or move. Schools get new programs with teachers and leaders coming in who start to make a difference. Given that constant turmoil, it is a wonder there haven’t been more rumors about the coming merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems in August 2013. But less than eight months from the opening of the merged school district in early August 2013, parents should have more answers in the way of decisions by the school board and a single superintendent should be calling the shots.

Armed police to be stationed at Clarksville-Montgomery elementary schools (LC)

Clarksville-Montgomery County School System officials announced in a press conference Friday morning that armed off-duty city and county law enforcement officers will be stationed in all elementary schools for the spring semester beginning this month. The $140,000 safety measure will run through the end of the spring semester while officials wait to see if the Tennessee or federal governments implement other safety programs, according to Director of Schools B.J. Worthington.

 

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: The hypocrisy of Tennessee Democrats (Times Free-Press)

The hypocrisy of the Democratic lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly is stunning. After less than one week in session, Democrats in the state House and Senate have called on Republican lawmakers to enact stricter rules regarding government transparency and get state government out of local decision making. Those ideas are needed now — and were needed even more when the Democrats controlled state government. Of course, when Democrats controlled the state legislature and governor’s mansion, they weren’t interested in open government and local autonomy. The Democrats’ “it’s good for thee, but not for me” attitude is evident by simply looking back a few years.

Editorial: Time for DCS to turn over detailed child death records (Jackson Sun)

The mess in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has reached a boiling point. The agency can no longer hide behind confidentiality when children’s lives are being lost with little accountability and virtually no information about what happened and what role DCS played in these children’s tragic lives and deaths. DCS must turn over detailed information so competent analysis and adequate resources can brought to bear on department operations. For months, state lawmakers have been requesting information from DCS on child deaths that occurred either while they were in state custody or where the children had been involved with DCS in the past. Since 2009, 151 children connected to DCS have died. Requests for information about the deaths have been met by stonewalling from DCS officials who have argued they cannot release the information because of confidentiality requirements.

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