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January 17 TN News Digest

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

School Vouchers Underway by Fall, Haslam Hopes (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam wants a new school-vouchers program to be ready by the time summer vacation ends. His proposal would divert taxpayer money from public schools to instead help some low-income students afford private school tuition. Specifics of the proposal are not out yet, and Haslam says the kickoff date is hardly set in stone. Last year Haslam called ‘time-out’ on vouchers so he could study the matter, and now he says it’s time to act.

Haslam to push for private school vouchers (Memphis Business Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will soon present lawmakers with a proposal for a statewide school voucher program, Nashville public radio station WPLN 90.3 FM reports. A voucher program would divert public dollars to help children who can’t afford private school tuition. Haslam asked lawmakers to hold off on such a plan last year so he could study the issue. The vouchers will come out of state funding for education, which allows $9,200 per student per year, according to The Commercial Appeal.

Vouching for Winners (Metro Pulse)

More ‘Education Reform’ is Coming, But Proponents Have Shaky Success Records On Monday, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came to Nashville for a press event with Gov. Bill Haslam. “This is a time of great importance for our country, and this is the single most important thing we can be doing,” Bush stated at one point. What was this matter of such urgency? Did it involve national security? A fiscal crisis? The battle over gun control? None of the above. Bush was referring to school vouchers (and, by default, education reform in general).

Haslam uncertain on school security upgrades (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s too soon to say whether Tennessee should require an armed police presence in every school in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting that left 20 students and six teachers dead. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Rep. Joe Carr of Murfreesboro called a press conference Wednesday to announce he will pursue legislation to make it a crime in Tennessee for federal agents to enforce any effort to ban firearms or ammunition.Carr said the measure would also require the state’s attorney general to defend any Tennessean prosecuted for violating the potential federal gun violations.

Forum with Frist addresses government’s role in funding research (Tenn/Sisk)

Three of the state’s top Republicans at a forum Wednesday morning at Vanderbilt University put in plugs for university research but differed on the types of projects that should receive government funding. In a panel discussion, Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and former Sen. Bill Frist said they support government grants to research universities, such as Vanderbilt and the University of Tennessee. But they offered different views on whether government should throw its money behind projects that may not lead to immediate benefits.

Haslam announces Higher Education Initiative (Clarksville Online)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced that Randy Boyd will join his administration as special advisor to the governor for Higher Education to focus on affordability, access and quality of state programs. Boyd will consult with a formal working group appointed by Haslam made up of the governor, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), and president of the University of Tennessee. Although Boyd’s position will be full-time, he will be working for the state on a voluntary, unpaid basis.

1,019 traffic fatalities ‘unacceptable’; TN officials aim to reduce deaths (TN/Gang)

Official calls 1,019 fatalities ‘unacceptable’ Calling the number of traffic deaths last year unacceptable, Tennessee’s top safety and transportation officials on Wednesday vowed to ramp up efforts to reduce them. Deaths on the state’s roadways hit 1,019 last year, an 8.8 percent increase over 2011, according to preliminary totals released at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “That is unacceptable. We understand that,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.

TN pharmacy board learning wide scope of licensed compounding in state (TN/Rau)

The Tennessee Board of Pharmacy on Wednesday learned for the first time how widespread the practice of sterile compounding is across the state as it considers additional regulations of the industry. According to preliminary survey results disclosed to the board at its meeting, 352 pharmacies licensed in Tennessee practice sterile compounding. The mandatory survey was prepared late last year after the national meningitis outbreak that has taken a heavy toll in Tennessee. So far, 44 people nationwide, including 14 Tennesseans, have died after contracting a rare form of fungal meningitis.

State Health Commissioner Talks Prevention (Memphis Daily News)

The School of Public Health at the University of Memphis on Tuesday, Jan. 15, welcomed Tennessee Commissioner of Health Dr. John Dreyzehner and his health policy team to the Fishbowl Room inside the FedEx Institute of Technology for a “town hall” discussion of public health and economic issues that affect our community. The session, titled “Public Health is Everybody’s Business,” was led by Dr. Marian Levy, associate professor and assistant dean of students & public health practice, and Dr. Lisa M. Klesges, dean of the U of M School of Public Health.

Attorney General: Student Group Bill ‘Constitutionally Suspect’ (AP/Loller)

The state attorney general’s office says a vetoed bill that took aim at Vanderbilt University’s treatment of religious student groups is “constitutionally suspect.” The proposal was the result of a controversy that flared up after a gay Vanderbilt student was thrown out of a Christian fraternity. That caused the school to begin more strictly enforcing its “all-comers” policy. Vanderbilt’s policy requires its student groups to allow any student to become a member and hold office, regardless of the student’s beliefs.

State AG questions legality of ‘all-comers’ bill (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

A bill vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam last year was characterized as “constitutionally suspect” in a state attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday. The sponsor of the bill, meanwhile, said he hopes an “amicable agreement” can be worked out with Vanderbilt University to resolve a dispute that revolves around religious freedom of students. If not, state Rep. Mark Pody said he will push similar legislation this year with the legal opinion in mind. The bill in question was aimed at blocking Vanderbilt University’s so-called “all-comers” policy for campus student organizations.

TN lawmakers to push for DCS changes (Tennessean/Wadhwani, Gonzalez)

Two top-ranking Republicans plan to convene legislative meetings to examine the Department of Children’s Services as a growing number of Tennessee lawmakers demand answers from the $650 million child protection agency. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan to announce legislative meetings to examine DCS when the General Assembly reconvenes late this month, Harwell said Wednesday. Republican leaders will ask lawmakers to “examine our existing statutes and to identify laws and innovative practices in other states that may be good ideas for Tennessee,” Harwell said in a prepared statement.

Bill would Block Gun Laws, Allow Arrest of Federal Agents (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A state lawmaker has introduced measures to block any new federal gun laws. Rutherford County Republican Joe Carr even went as far as to say any federal officers would be arrested if they tried to enforce such laws. Carr’s bill would allow federal officers to be charged with a misdemeanor for carrying out laws passed by congress and executive orders from the President. In a brief press conference Carr said although he expects support for the bill, he also anticipates legal hurdles.

Carr bill aims to prevent feds from enforcing U.S. gun laws in TN (C. Paper/Zelinski)

Congressional hopeful and state Rep. Joe Carr wants to ensure that any new gun restrictions handed down from Washington, D.C., go unenforced in the Volunteer State. Carr, a Lascassas Republican, is introducing a bill that would slap federal officials with a Class A misdemeanor for enforcing new federal gun laws, executive orders, rules or regulations. “It’s our attempt to push back on the federal government’s ever-increasing encroachment not only on our personal liberties but on our state sovereignty, and this is what we’re going to do. We’ve had enough, and enough is enough,” he told reporters at a press conference in Murfreesboro.

Carr: Americans should be able to ‘defend themselves’ (Daily News Journal)

Saying Americans should be able to “defend themselves from tyranny,” state Rep. Joe Carr fired back at President Barack Obama’s proposed assault weapons ban and universal background check. Carr, a Lascassas Republican, filed legislation this week that would charge federal agents with a Class A misdemeanor for enforcing new federal laws or executive orders that ban, restrict or require registration of any semiautomatic gun, accessory or ammunition. “I think people … should be able to defend themselves from tyranny,” Carr said in a Wednesday press conference.

Tennesseans react with support, defiance to Obama gun plan (Tennessean/Haas)

Legislators react with defiance Tennesseans on Wednesday reacted to President Barack Obama’s plan to more closely regulate firearms with a mixture of cautious acceptance and outright defiance. Obama’s plan uses executive orders to strengthen laws and improve information sharing about firearms between federal agencies. He’s also asking for legislation to ban military-style semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines and force federal background checks for all gun sales. While some of the measures could be a hard sell in gun-friendly states such as Tennessee, particularly bans on weapons or magazines, the executive orders were received with a measured response by many local gun owners.

Tenn. officials had mixed reactions to Obama’s speech (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokesman, David Smith, said the governor is reviewing the president’s proposals.’ “While we understand that some of the issues will go before Congress, this level of unilateral action on an issue this important is concerning,” he said. Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester applauded the proposals, saying Tennessee families “are confronted with more gun violence than citizens in almost every other state in the nation.” “Tennessee families know the consequences of doing nothing all too well,” Forrester said.

‘Bad people will get guns’ (Jackson Sun)

Local criticism of gun-control proposals West Tennessee residents who are against stricter gun control laws believe the problem isn’t the guns, but society and the individual. “None of those issues resolve the problem,” said Scott Dahlstrom, a member and teacher at the Tennessee Sports Foundation, in reference to the president’s proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. “The problem is in the heart of the person pulling the trigger, not the gun.” “You can take guns away and they’ll find something else,” Dahlstrom later added.

Luttrell Preparing for County Tax Hike (Memphis Daily News)

A county property tax hike is probably on the way, according to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. That’s what he told the Memphis chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management Tuesday, Jan. 15. “I think we are probably going to see a tax increase of some sort,” Luttrell said. “How much that tax increase is, we just don’t know yet.” Luttrell commented during a “state of the county” speech to the group of 60 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. He is still awaiting the results of the 2013 property reappraisal by Shelby County Assessor Cheyenne Johnson.

Congressmen Voice Support of Second Amendment After Announcement (WPLN)

Most of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation is either balking or staying silent in response to the gun control plan President Obama unveiled today. The administration wants Congress to ban certain assault weapons and high capacity magazines and institute background checks for purchases made at gun shows. Johnson City Republican Phil Roe and Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga both countered with statements praising the Second Amendment and hints that they would not support any new restrictions. Brentwood’s Marsha Blackburn said much the same, but more forcefully.

Cooper Only Democrat to Vote Against Sandy Relief (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Nashville’s Jim Cooper was the only Democratic congressman to vote against $51 billion in aid for the states affected by Hurricane Sandy. A majority of Republicans, including Tennessee’s GOP representatives, also voted against it. Cooper says he couldn’t support the bill, because it would add to federal spending at a time when the country is about to hit the debt ceiling. “You know, these were fine people and they were hammered by the hurricane and that’s a terrible thing. We need to help them. It’s an American responsibility to help them. But it’s also an American responsibility to have a solvent nation, not a bankrupt nation.”

Rep. Jim Cooper’s vote against Sandy relief aid draws ire (Tennessean/Garrison)

Dem says package hasn’t been paid for The fiscal conservatism of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is part of the Blue Dog’s national brand, but even some Nashville Democrats were shocked to learn of his latest distinction. Cooper emerged Tuesday as the lone Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against $50.7 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief, which cleared the chamber by a 241-180 vote. His vote, the same as all seven congressional Republicans from Tennessee, drew immediate and expected criticism from liberal blogs — and it also raised eyebrows back home.

Cooper on Sandy Vote (Nashville Scene)

Congressman Jim Cooper raised eyebrows, and calls for a primary challenge, when he voted last night against $50 billion in emergency funding for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last year. He was the only Democrat to do so. Cooper voted to approve legislation earlier this month that provided $9.7 billion for federal flood insurance, and had supported a bill earlier on Tuesday that approved $17 billion in spending for disaster relief. But when the full $50 billion came to a vote, 179 Republicans and Cooper voted to oppose it.

Chattanooga area lawmakers in D.C. don’t like plan (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

One Tennessee Republican lawmaker says he’s ready to blitz the violent video game industry. Another wants the president to tackle mental health. Mention guns, though, and they bolt. Poised to overhaul the nation’s gun laws to prevent another Newtown, President Obama shouldn’t expect much help from anybody representing the Tennessee Valley in Washington. “I will not support any proposal that violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement typical of Republican lawmakers.

As rain the falls, TVA keeps eye on valley’s rising rivers (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

As rain continues in the Tennessee Valley for the 10th straight day, local emergency officials aren’t the only ones watching South Chickamauga Creek with worried eyes. In a small office on the 10th floor of a Knoxville office building, TVA weather and river flow experts are running continuous rainfall models and sending messages to open and close dam spillways — all to keep Mother Nature’s excess from causing a flood mess. “We began looking at this [heavy rain possibility] a week and a half ago,” said Tom Barnett, manager of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s River Forecast Center.

TVA cuts February power rates (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Flessner)

January’s wet and warmer weather may have flooded some low-lying areas this week, but it also is helping keep some low-income consumers financially afloat with cheaper winter heating bills. For the second consecutive month, TVA will cut its fuel cost adjustment in February, reducing retail electricity prices about 3.1 percent next month. In Chattanooga, EPB estimates that the typical residential customer will save about $3.42 next month because of the drop in TVA’s fuel costs.

Two new TVA directors sworn in (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Two newly appointed TVA directors were sworn in Wednesday, the federal utility announced. Mahurin, of Bowling Green, Ky., took the oath of office from U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Brent Brennenstuhl at the U.S. Courthouse in Bowling Green. His term will expire May 18, 2016. V. Lynn Evans, of Memphis, Tenn., was sworn in by U.S. District Judge John T. Fowlkes in Memphis. Her term will expire May 18, 2017. Mahurin is chairman of Hilliard Lyons Financial Services, a post he has held since 2008. He joined Hilliard Lyons in 1968 and has held several positions since.

Aquarium uses TVA program to go green (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Aquarium gets $60,000 TVA rebate Rebates available through TVA programs can help businesses save a bundle on energy efficiency upgrades, said Tom Irwin, a manager with TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions for Business. A recent example is Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokes, which received a $60,130 rebate check for lighting and other upgrades it completed under the EnergyRight program, he said. “They are very committed to being environmentally sensitive,” Irwin said. This is one of the larger rebates companies have received under the program, which began in 2010, he said.

New Breed Logistics company announces plans to add 468 jobs (CA/Risher)

New Breed Logistics said Wednesday it would invest $23 million in Memphis, adding 468 local warehouse and distribution jobs. The announcement came as the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board approved a $400,000 state grant to help the company add infrastructure for the expansion. The privately held third-party logistics provider will expand its facility at 4895 Citation Drive and lease new space at 4585 Quality Drive, pushing employment in Greater Memphis to more than 2,200 people.

AGC’s Greenland plant restarts line, adds 100 jobs (Times-News)

AGC Glass Company North America has officially restarted a production line that had been idled in recent years, resulting in the creation of 100 additional jobs at the Greenland plant in Hawkins County. Local community leaders gathered with company officials this week at the plant to celebrate the restart of the G1 float glass line, which will produce both high-quality clear and tinted float glass for the architectural and automotive industries. The company shut down the production line in 2008 and laid off about 250 people at the time.

Nashville jumps to No. 14 in monthly economic ranking (Nashville Biz Journal)

Nashville has taken another jump on On Numbers’ monthly ranking of economic vitality across the country. Nashville ranks No. 14 on the index for January, up from No. 18 in December. On Numbers, a Nashville Business Journal affiliate, analyzes 18 statistical indicators each month, providing a snapshot of conditions in the 102 major metropolitan areas with populations above 500,000. Among the factors are private-sector job growth, unemployment, earnings, housing-price appreciation and construction and retail activity.

Rejected charter school operators plead their cases to the state (CA/Roberts)

Decision whether to overturn denial comes Feb. 1 Charter school operators previously rejected by the Unified Shelby County Schools board took their cases to the state Wednesday, explaining why they are qualified to run schools and why the local decision to deny the charters should be overturned. The state board of education will rule on the appeals Feb. 1, a process that could dramatically change if legislators this session create a statewide authority for approving charter schools. For now, only local school boards have authority to approve new charters.

Little change expected in transfers in unified Shelby County Schools (CA/Kelley)

Parents who enroll their children in the unified Memphis and Shelby County school district set to open next fall would see little change in student assignments and transfers under a policy approved by a board committee Wednesday. Action on another policy reviewed by the board — simply acknowledging a state law that denies the school district’s ability to make fees mandatory for certain school activities — was put off for another day.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Haslam focus on higher education reform addresses an urgent need (JS)

Gov. Bill Haslam is full of surprises this week. On Monday, he announced plans to introduce a school voucher proposal to the General Assembly. Previously, he said he was undecided and did not plan to introduce voucher legislation. On Tuesday, he announced a major initiative on higher education. Haslam spent a good portion of last summer meeting with higher education officials and getting a better understanding of what the state needs to do to increase higher education outcomes. Then he indicated he would not introduce sweeping higher education reform legislation this year. Now, he appears to be taking a different tack to achieve a similar end.

Frank Cagle: Whose Money? You Pay Taxes to Educate Everybody’s Kids (M Pulse)

It sounds like education reform, and on the surface it has a certain kind of logic. The General Assembly will be taking up a voucher plan this session that would give parents tax money to spend on a private school if they are unhappy with the school their child attends. I don’t know the details of the plan; Gov. Bill Haslam will announce them at some point. The idea is to provide competition for failing public schools and it usually focuses on schools in poor neighborhoods. The way voucher plans normally work is that money normally spent on educating children is relayed to parents so they can spend it elsewhere at a private school. Using that specious logic, the money for education belongs to the to support public schools.

Editorial: Giving students more charter school options is key (Commercial Appeal)

It looks like the Tennessee General Assembly this session will consider legislation challenging the ability of local school boards to manage their own affairs. Legislators are expected to consider a proposal being crafted by the Tennessee Charter Schools Association that would give the power to approve charter schools to an independent group authorized by the state. The association says the measure would take politics out of the approval process. Local school boards across the state, as expected, are opposed to giving up the authority to approve the publicly funded charter schools that open in their districts. And frankly, taking that responsibility out of local control is troubling.

Editorial: Don’t write off Hemlock just yet (Tennessean)

The news from Clarksville this week was certainly disheartening: The new Hemlock Semiconductor plant will not open on schedule and three-fourths of its workforce, or 300 workers, have been laid off. When other such manufacturing facilities close or downsize, it’s never good for the local economy. Hemlock drew even more attention because of the relative newness of the industry in this state and the high hopes that many Tennesseans hold for the solar industry. But perhaps we should take some consolation in that this setback reinforces the fact that solar is a business, like any other business. It is not, as some naysayers suggest, a product in search of a demand.

Guest columnists: Tennessee runs less red than thought (Tennessean)

How red is Tennessee? Many national and local commentators think our politics are “deep” red. But the evidence shows the public is not as conservative on social issues as many believe. The perception of us being “deep red” surely has been fueled by the attention attracted by some of the actions of our state legislature. From bills legalizing the consumption of road-kill to efforts to curtail the discussion of homosexuality in public schools, we have received far more negative attention by the national media than we deserve. Truth be told, we have lots of highly successful and talented politicians in the state and in our legislature. But this view that Tennessee is a deep red state now appears to have seeped into the public’s thinking about themselves, since Tennesseans believe their fellow citizens are far more conservative than they actually are.

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