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January 13 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to speak about research at universities (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam will speak Wednesday at a Vanderbilt University forum on the role of state governments in promoting research at national laboratories, universities and other institutions of higher learning. Sen. Lamar Alexander, former Sen. Bill Frist, Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and School of Engineering Dean Philippe Fauchet will take part.

Looking for growth in Cleveland (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Leach)

Cleveland officials will spend Monday morning reviewing the city’s strategic objectives of accommodating growth and improving quality of life for its residents. Highlights of the session will include presentations on the rejuvenation of Inman Street east of the railroad overpass, extension of the city’s greenway and future annexation. The Army Corps of Engineers also will provide an update for a flood study it is performing within the city limits. The meeting will kick off with recommendations for redeveloping Inman Street, the eastern corridor into the city, stretching from the railroad to the connector with APD-40.

Megasite effort in Jefferson County is a challenge (News-Sentinel/Flory)

Bill and Norma Jarnigan have lived in a home on Sam Martin Road in Jefferson County for nearly four decades. On Wednesday, they got a letter informing them of an “exciting opportunity” — an opportunity to sell their home. The letter came from the county’s Economic Development Oversight Committee, which last week announced plans to create a certified industrial megasite near the intersection of Interstates 40 and 81. The idea is to create a shovel-ready, 1,800-acre site that could be sold for an auto factory or a similar manufacturing operation.

Flu season hitting its stride in Tennessee; vaccines available (AP/Loller)

Flu season is hitting its stride, and it may be shaping up to be a bad one in Tennessee. Based on data from the Tennessee Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are characterizing the flu as “widespread” in the state and list it among 24 states with high levels of influenza-like illnesses. Dr. Kelly Moore, the medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program, said that it is still too early to draw final conclusions, but now, this season seems similar to the last bad one in 2003-2004.

DCS slow to analyze own handling of child deaths (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Three infants died in separate incidents in a Tennessee home that was well known to the Department of Children’s Services, and after the third baby died, DCS flagged the family as being a high risk while allowing children to remain in the home. In fact, dozens of cases show that DCS investigators allowed abusive and drug-using parents — sometimes in garbage-filled homes — to keep children who later died, according to department records obtained by The Tennessean late Friday. In the home where the babies died, DCS later suggested that the regional office working with the family might want to find a different employee to handle any future concerns.

Nashville nursing home deals with $240,000 in fines (Tennessean/Roche)

Crestview Health says numerous deficiencies have been corrected A Nashville nursing home has been fined nearly $240,000 in the past year as a result of violations of state and federal regulations that placed patients in “immediate jeopardy.” The citations, one on May 12 for $231,972 and the other on Dec. 6 for $8,000, came after surveyors from the state Health Department inspected Crestview Health and Rehabilitation Center. Shelley Walker, spokeswoman for the state agency, said the May citation had been paid but the $8,000 citation was still pending.

Weather blamed for uptick in Tennessee road fatalities (News-Sentinel/Ahillen)

The Knoxville Police Department report read like a recipe for disaster and, not surprisingly, one occurred. Shannon Mayne of Springfield, Tenn., was driving east on Interstate 40 near the Strawberry Plains exit around 11:30 p.m. May 3 of last year. His cousin Casey Stinnett, 17, of Dandridge and her cousin, Carl Stinnett III, 22, of Clarksville, were riding along. Mayne, 26, is suspected of having been driving under the influence. None of the occupants were wearing seat belts. The Chrysler Sebring crossed the interstate’s grassy median and slammed head-on into a westbound tractor-trailer driving by Peter Simets, 54, of Northbrook, Ill.

Injured THP trooper on slow road to recovery (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Lakin)

Lowell Russell used to start each day with a two-mile run. Now his days revolve around physical therapy.”I have to pace myself,” he said. “That’s probably the most difficult thing — going from being able to do about anything I wanted to waking up in a hospital bed barely able to move. I’m one of those people who likes to be on the go, and not being able to do that’s very frustrating.” The Tennessee Highway Patrol sergeant nearly died March 13 when a tractor-trailer slammed into his cruiser on Interstate 40 West in Knoxville.

No ‘Greenbelt’ reforms expected to sprout in Nashville (News-Sentinel/Perrusquia)

Property tax abuses under a Tennessee farm-protection program have triggered wide discussion among government and business leaders, yet with the General Assembly back in session and a deadline looming for filing bills, there is little or no interest in reforms. Spokesmen for Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey say they know of no proposed legislation to tweak the so-called Greenbelt Law, which grants lower property taxes to farmers. “The governor isn’t planning to introduce legislation on this issue and would have to see any specific proposals before endorsing legislation, but he has said it is an issue that merits review,” Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said in an e-mail.

Education reformer has interest in Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The scourge of teacher unions across the country, Michelle Rhee briskly walked along a Tennessee legislative corridor on the first day of the session last week and spotted a state lawmaker, Democrat John DeBerry, of Memphis. “Representative DeBerry!” the delighted CEO of the national education advocacy group StudentsFirst exclaimed, darting over to confer with the black socially conservative minister and school voucher advocate. In the 2012 election, StudentsFirst put almost $114,000, mostly independent expenditures, into DeBerry’s primary contest with Rep. Jeanne Richardson, helping DeBerry overwhelm Richardson.

Group spending big money to push education agenda (News-Sentinel/Humprhey)

Michelle Rhee says Tennessee would be a priority in her $1 billion nationwide effort to transform education policy at the state level, even if she and the state’s education commissioner did not have two daughters in public schools here. StudentsFirst, which Rhee founded and heads, has the goal of raising and spending the $1 billion over a five-year period. In Tennessee, the group is well on its way with about $900,000 in spending on political contributions and lobbying during just over a year of operating within the state.

Sens. Massey, McNally talk Medicaid at public forum (News-Sentinel/Brake)

Seventy-two East Tennesseans shared bagels, fruit and their questions on Tennessee’s top public issues with State Sens. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, and Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, at the Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters annual “Legislative Breakfast” this morning. “This is the League’s bread and butter,” said Jamey Dobbs, president of the League. “There’s no better way to educate voters about issues than to have their own elected representatives stand in front of them and speak face-to-face with them.”

Background checks flag few applicants for gun sales in Tennessee (CA/Garlington)

Late one afternoon a mother and daughter each picked out a handgun at a local gun store in Cordova. They expected to leave within minutes after getting their background checks cleared through the Tennessee Instant Check System. (TICS) Instead, four Memphis police officers arrived and arrested the mom on three outstanding warrants: two hot check charges and one for failing to install a fence around her pool in Florida. Gun store owner William C. Hill Jr. ended up losing both sales at his Arms-Fair store: The daughter decided to bail her mother out of jail rather than buy a gun.The roadblock that this mother hit happens rarely. Only about 4 percent of people who try to buy a gun in Tennessee are snagged by background checks.

Golf courses appeal greenbelt denial from state (News-Sentinel/Witt)

Two Knoxville country clubs want their tax break back. Cherokee and Holston Hills country clubs for decades enjoyed tax cuts typically conferred to farms, forests and open spaces under the state’s greenbelt law. In 2011, Cherokee received a $28,921 tax break and Holston Hills took a $3,496 tax break from Knox County. That discount ended in September. In a letter, the State Office of the Comptroller directed Knox County’s property assessor to remove them from the tax break they’ve gotten since 1983 and bill for lost back taxes over five years.

If Nashville is ‘it’ city, what’s that mean for Memphis? (C. Appeal/McMillin)

It hit social media Tuesday evening, just after the buzz over the Alabama quarterback’s girlfriend had peaked. Nashville, proclaimed an article in The New York Times, was now considered the nation’s “IT” city. Kim Severson, who covers the South, published to Twitter a link to her article and the message: “What I found in Nashville: A city with the goofy grin of the newly popular.” Under the headline, “Nashville’s Latest Big Hit Could Be the City Itself,” the Times linked Tennessee’s capital city with hip, prosperous locales like Austin, Portland and Dallas.

Tenn. meth production high despite tracking (Herald-Courier)

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.

Tenn. communities consider more safety at schools (Associated Press)

School districts and local governments in Tennessee are starting to take or recommend more safety measures in the wake of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last month. In Unicoi County, Sheriff Mike Hensley said he has placed resource officers in all schools at least until the end of the spring semester. In a similar effort, Montgomery County, officials announced that they would place armed off-duty police officers at elementary schools beginning this month. Meanwhile, officials in other communities are discussing options.

Greater Chattanooga area parents take on guns in schools (TFP/Hardy)

A rush to find solutions and prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary School has marked the days and weeks since the massacre. Pass gun control. Arm teachers. Ban assault weapons. Put a gun in every school. The president, the NRA, lawmakers and educators have all weighed in. Now some of the people closest to the issue across the Chattanooga region — parents and students — are weighing in on the recommendations with strong yet divided opinions on how best to ensure the safety of our children. Especially when it comes to giving teachers guns.

Nashville school lottery leaves hundreds on waiting lists (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

Nine-year-old Ina Pegues was one of the lucky few to win a highly sought-after slot at Meigs Magnet School during a selection lottery Saturday. But her parents are wavering between Meigs and a charter school because they want to set the best groundwork for college success. The right middle school “can affect them as to getting the right mindset and getting the right study habits and motivation,” said Anthony Pegues, Ina’s father. “Motivation is something to really help them strive for excellence.”

Clock running out on merger of Memphis-Shelby Co. schools (CA/Kelley)

Kriner Cash’s departure from the superintendent’s office at Memphis City Schools at the end of the month will put the leadership of the transition to a unified city-county district in the hands of a single person — a move that is seen by many board members as a boost to the prospects for a successful merger. But with or without Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken clearly in charge, a long list of decisions, conversions and challenges remain for a successful debut of the consolidated Memphis and Shelby County school district in August.

 

OPINION 

Tom Humphrey: Limit on bills gives power to executive branch (News-Sentinel)

Gov. Bill Haslam graciously consented to including a 75-bill limit on annual introductions of legislation by his administration last week and the restriction was thereupon approved as part of House rules — along with a 15-bill limit on legislators. As a practical matter, of course, this is not a big restraint upon gubernatorial production of legislative ideas. Last year, Haslam’s administration proposed 55 bills. So, if he meets the new limit, the governor will have 20 more bills under the restriction this year than under last year’s unlimited filing. In contrast, some individual legislators introduced more than 100 bills last session. The 15-bill limit will thus mean a big change in such folks’ standard operating procedure — perhaps for the better in many cases. Still, the practical effect is a limitation on legislators; no limitation on the governor.

Editorial: Protecting children requires openness from adults (Tennessean)

The urge to circle the wagons and fire on anything that moves is a time-honored frontier tactic when faced with hostiles; the same behavior when exhibited by government officials demonstrates that people are more concerned about keeping their job than doing their job. So it is with Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kate O’Day. Her unwillingness to open up the department’s child fatality records for outside review demonstrates a regrettable attitude that she sees critics as enemies; an intransigent position that will likely become self-fulfilling. This week, as attorneys walked into Chancery Court to argue whether the department should be compelled to turn over the records for the 31 children who died in the first half of 2012 as demanded in a lawsuit filed by The Tennessean and a statewide coalition of newspapers and television stations, DCS announced that two top officials, whose duties included reviewing those deaths, had been fired.

Editorial: More SROs require $1.2M worth of debate (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County may need a school resource officer in every elementary school to improve security for children, but such a move should go through the same protocol every spending measure faces. That’s why the Rutherford County Commission’s Budget, Finance & Investment Committee made the right decision Thursday night in directing Sheriff Robert Arnold to place a request for more SROs in his fiscal 2014 budget. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., Arnold understands the political will exists to fund a $1.2 million request to add 11 SROs to elementary schools. The Public Safety Committee urged him to study the matter in a December meeting. But this isn’t simply pulling money out of petty cash to replace an officer’s worn-out uniform. It’s a major initiative that requires thought, debate and the public will to pay for it.

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