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February 12 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Requests Disaster Recovery Assistance from SBA (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has requested assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help individuals and businesses in Henderson County and the contiguous counties recover from wind, tornado and flooding damages that occurred on Jan. 29, 2013. The additional counties that would be eligible for SBA loans are Carroll, Chester, Decatur, Hardin and Madison as damage to homes and businesses occurred in multiple locations.

Haslam requests assistance from the SBA for storm damage (Jackson Sun)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has requested assistance from the Small Business Administration to help individuals and businesses in Henderson County and the contiguous counties recover from wind, tornado and flooding damages that occurred on Jan. 29, according to a news release today. The additional counties that would be eligible for SBA loans are Carroll, Chester, Decatur, Hardin and Madison as damage to homes and businesses occurred in multiple locations.

Tennessee Launches International Export Strategy, Foreign Offices (TN Report)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty today announced an international strategy focused on increasing the exports of Tennessee goods to key markets around the globe. Efforts will be led by ECD’s International Division with new Export Development Offices in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany serving the entire European Union, and China. Today’s announcement marks the first time since 1997 that the state of Tennessee has had overseas offices solely dedicated to advancing Tennessee exports.

State opens business offices in 4 countries (Associated Press)

Tennessee is opening offices in four countries to help increase exports to key international markets. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty announced Monday that the state has opened Export Development Offices in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and China. The offices will help Tennessee businesses navigate the exporting process by offering business intelligence, market analysis, sales and marketing planning, identification of distribution partners and company matchmaking.

Tennessee launches effort to boost $30B export business (Tennessean/Williams)

Tennessee plans to open four offices abroad to help promote the state’s export business, with outposts in China, Mexico, German and the United Kingdom, Gov. Bill Haslam and the state Department of Economic and Community Development announced today. Already, Tennessee industries export $30 billion worth of products annually, but that could grow substantially in the future with some assistance from the state, said Bill Hagerty, the department’s commissioner.

State launches export push (Nashville Post)

The Tennessee Department of Economic Development on Monday announced it will ramp up its efforts to help state companies export their products and services around the world. Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said ECD’s international division will open export development offices in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany and China. In a statement, they said the move means the state will have overseas offices focused on growing exports for the first time since 1997.

Tennessee launches export promotion offices overseas (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee is launching export development offices overseas to promote more exports, according to Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. The export promotion program — with offices opening in Mexico, China, Germany and the United Kingdom — is meant to expand exports for small- and medium-size companies in Tennessee and add to the state’s annual export sales, which have more than tripled in the last decade and climbed to $30 billion in 2011. The department’s goal is to grow exports by 10 percent in the next three years.

New Strategy to Lure International Business, Help Tenn Companies Export (WPLN)

State officials hope a new strategy will bring more foreign companies to Tennessee. At the same time, they hope to get more businesses in the state to sell their products abroad. In the past, state officials have made trips overseas to convince international companies that Tennessee is a good place to do business. Governor Bill Haslam says the state will now have a year-round presence throughout the world by opening trade offices in Mexico, the UK, Germany and China. We’re trying to see where they have manufacturing jobs overseas, where changing values of currency, where things that used to be manufactured in Asia, are now manufactured here.

Tennessee unveils four trade offices (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Pare)

Tennessee officials said Monday that new export offices in Mexico, England, Germany and China will open added markets to Chattanooga companies and others in the state. “We want to de-mystify the process of exporting and take the risk and uncertainty out for small to midsize companies,” said Samar Ali, the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s assistant commissioner of international affairs. Slated to open as early as later this week, the offices will mark the first time since 1997 that the state will have overseas sites solely dedicated to advancing Tennessee exports.

State initiative to boost Tennessee exports (News-Sentinel/Harris)

Tennessee unveiled a new international business strategy on Monday with a goal of increasing state exports by 10 percent over the next three years. A key part of the plan is the opening of new Export Development Offices in Mexico, China, Germany and the United Kingdom. This will be the first time since 1997 that state government has operated “overseas offices solely dedicated to advancing Tennessee exports,” according to a news release. “Based on personal business experience and where the (currency) exchange rates are now we have a real opportunity here to grow exports,” Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty said in a phone interview.

Tennessee expands trade presence (Tennessean/Dowd)

Determined to boost the number of Tennessee’s small and medium-sized businesses that export goods and services to foreign countries, state officials on Monday announced a new strategy to expand efforts in those markets. Gov. Bill Haslam and state Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty launched the ECD’s International Division, which features export development offices in Heidelberg, London, Mexico City and Shanghai. In addition, the ECD has established export recruitment offices in Düsseldorf, London, Tokyo and Toronto.

Tennessee Grad Rates Have Soared, But How? (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

On a bright December day, 61 new graduates crossed the stage at a huge Baptist church north of Nashville. For the relatively small class from the Academy at Old Cockrill, the ceremony was spirited and loud. It marked a milestone for students who struggled to get through, like 18-year-old Farris Leftwich, whose dad has heart trouble and diabetes. “This is his last wish before he sees the grave,” Leftwich says, “to see me walk across the stage.” After the ceremony, exultant families lingered until they almost had to be shooed out.

State tax revenue topped estimates in January (Nashville Business Journal)

Sales tax collections in January fell from year-ago levels, but overall revenue from tax collections exceeded the amount budgeted by the state by $15.4 million. State officials report January was the sixth consecutive month of overall increases. “Total collections in January seem to indicate that Tennessee continues to slowly recover form the recession, which is the national trend, as well,” Mark Emkes, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, said in a news release.

Board of Regents Reps Recognize Need for Technical College (Herald-Chronicle)

Franklin County was a popular place to be on Friday, Feb. 8. Not only was Tennessee’s first lady Crissy Haslam here visiting, but also staff members with the Tennessee Board of Regents were in town to address the county’s longtime plans of establishing a technical college in the county. Franklin County Re-Entry director Christine Hopkins invited James King, vice chancellor of Tennessee Technology Centers, and Carol Puryear, assistant vice chancellor, to attend this important meeting.

DCS deleted details of children’s deaths (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Someone at the Department of Children’s Services who prepared documents for The Tennessean deleted large portions in the media’s copy of state child fatality records — removing information that should have been made public. Who did it, and why, the department has not yet said. An internal review is ongoing. Last week, the agency provided a new set of Child Fatality Review Team records that include previously removed paragraphs describing how DCS allowed some abusive parents to keep children who later died. The records also show growing discomfort among senior-level staffers about the ineffectiveness of their death reviews.

Dual enrollment gives students head start (Daily News Journal)

In the next few years, it’s possible students graduating from La Vergne High may do so with associate’s degrees in their hands. The school’s administration has worked for the past 18 months to shift its academic offerings to make them more attractive. That has led to the creation of a Dual Enrollment Academy thanks to a partnership with Motlow State Community College. When Stewarts Creek High opens in August, La Vergne High will lose about 600 students to the new school in southwest Smyrna, many of them residing in higher-income areas west of Interstate 24.

Senate approves parking lot guns bill on 28-5 vote (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The state Senate on Monday passed a bill to give people with handgun carry permits the right to store their loaded firearms in their vehicles wherever they are parked, brushing aside concerns raised by businesses and higher education administrators in Tennessee. The chamber voted 28-5 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville after rejecting Democratic efforts to add potential exclusions for businesses if they were approved by the state Department of Safety. “If you allow people to come onto your parking lot then they have the right to have that firearm in the car,” Ramsey told reporters before the vote.

TN ‘guns-in-trunks’ bill gets 28-5 Senate OK; House votes next (Tennessean/Sisk)

While Congress debates tougher gun restrictions, the Tennessee Senate took a step in the other direction Monday night, voting 28-5 to let gun owners carry their firearms into workplace parking lots. State senators approved “guns-in-trunks” legislation that would require employers to allow guns at least as far as their parking lots, provided workers keep their weapons locked up in their vehicles. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, backed the measure and pressed for a quick vote on the legislation, saying he does not want the issue to overshadow the rest of this year’s legislative session.

Tennessee state Senate passes guns in parking lots bill (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A years-long fight between gun-rights advocates and businesses ended in the state Senate on Monday with the overwhelming approval of a bill allowing handgun-carry permit holders to store firearms in vehicles parked almost everywhere, despite property owners or employers’ wishes. The bill, sponsored by Republican Speaker Ron Ramsey, passed on a 28-5 vote. A House subcommittee will hear the measure Wednesday.Businesses and higher education officials have fought the bill for years with companies such as Volkswagen in Chattanooga arguing such a move would threaten safety and violate private property rights.

Tennessee Senate approves guns-in-parking-lots bill (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

After four years of debate and opposition by many of Tennessee’s largest employers, the state Senate on Monday night approved the guns-in-parking-lots bill. The bill would allow handgun-carry permit holders to keep guns in their locked cars on virtually every public and private parking lot in the state, including school and college campuses. The bill is on a fast track toward final approval in the House, possibly within two weeks, but as currently written it would not go into effect until July 1. It’s set for House Civil Justice Committee review Wednesday.

‘Guns in Trunks’ Sponsors Fend Off Exemptions (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The state senate has sided with the Second Amendment over private property rights. So-called “guns in trunks” legislation passed Monday night by a wide margin. The bill allows gun owners with a carry permit to store a weapon locked in their car, even if they’re somewhere that doesn’t allow firearms – like a school or business. The state’s largest employers and universities objected to a more broadly written proposal last year, and state Senator Jack Johnson of Franklin was asked if they’ve come around since the bill is restricted to permit holders.

Ramsey says gun bill ‘going to pass’ (Times-News)

Employers realize legislation allowing gun permit holders to keep their weapons in locked personal vehicles on public or private property is “going to pass” in the Tennessee General Assembly this year, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Monday. The Blountville Republican made the comment before addressing a Regional Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast at the MeadowView Marriott. Ramsey is the prime sponsor of the gun bill that was expected to pass in the state Senate Monday night and get its first hearing in a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Ron Ramsey begins effort to redo Tennessee’s judicial lines (Tennessean/Sisk)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey launched an effort to redraw the state’s judicial districts, saying he hopes to a produce a plan by the beginning of March. Ramsey said Monday that he had sent letters to groups representing lawyers, judges, district attorneys and public defenders seeking their views on how to redesign Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts. The borders were last set in 1984. The lines form the framework for the state’s entire legal system. Ramsey, R-Blountville, argues that population shifts — mainly driven by the growth of suburban counties — have made the existing lines obsolete.

Plan Aims to Cut TN Judicial Districts (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Sitting judges and district attorneys may have to face off against one another in the next election under a plan to redraw judicial district lines. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey announced his proposal late Monday. Speaker Ramsey says reducing the number of judicial districts would allow the state to focus funding in areas with heavier case loads, without necessarily spending more money. He’d like to see 29 districts instead of the current 31. Ramsey says he recognizes the idea is unpopular in much of the legal community.

Ramsey Soliciting Ideas for New Judicial District Maps (TN Report)

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is expected today to announce he’s seeking input from the legal community and the general public on what reworked state judicial district maps should look like. Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. And with districts set to elect their district attorneys general, public defenders and state trial court judges this August, some powerful figures in the General Assembly are saying that this legislative session represents the best chance to improve the efficiency of the districts through redistricting.

Lawmaker critical of Vanderbilt’s ‘all-comers’ policy at work on new bill (TN/Sisk)

The state lawmaker behind an effort last year to overturn Vanderbilt University’s nondiscrimination policy is at work on new legislation. State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, filed a bill Monday morning that would have stripped Vanderbilt’s police department of official recognition unless the university drops its “all-comers” policy for university-recognized student groups. Pody withdrew the bill later Monday. But he said he may replace it with another version because he is unhappy with how Vanderbilt has handled the dispute.

Lawmakers resurrect fight against ‘All Comers’ policy (City Paper/Zelinski)

Legislators have reintroduced legislation vetoed by the governor last year that requires colleges to recognize religious student groups that discriminate against non-believers who want to join their ranks. The push is a reaction to Vanderbilt University exercising its “all comers” non-discrimination policy last year in refusing to recognize religious student groups that deny membership or leadership positions to any student, including those who do not conform with the club’s faith.

All-Comers Ban Returns, Limited to State Schools (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State legislation meant to undermine Vanderbilt University’s anti-discrimination policy for student groups is rising from the ashes. Last year a similar bill was slapped down with Governor Bill Haslam’s first veto. All-comers rules have been adopted at several elite universities, including Harvard. Vanderbilt’s anti-bias policy allows a student to join any club and bars organizations from requiring their leaders to hold certain believes. Opponents are concerned about Christian groups conceivably having to instate an atheist as their club president.

Lawmakers propose criminalizing UN election monitoring in Tenn (NS/Humphrey)

Any representative of the United Nations would lose official status upon entering Tennessee and, if monitoring an election, would commit a crime, under two bills introduced by freshman state Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss. “I feel, as a lot of my constituents do, that the United Nations continues to put forth agendas that would infringe on our personal liberties; that’s not the freedom that I fought for, and not the freedom that my buddies gave their lives for,” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, told the Kingsport Times-News in an email.

Tennessee’s average sales tax rate still No. 1 in U.S. (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee continues to have the highest combined state and average local sales tax rate in the country, according to the latest annual report from the Tax Foundation. The average combined state and local sales tax rate in Tennessee is 9.44 percent. Tennessee is followed by Arizona (9.16 percent), Louisiana (8.87 percent), Washington (8.86 percent) and Oklahoma (8.67 percent). Of course, one reason sales taxes are relatively high in Tennessee is the state’s lack of an income tax.

Big Five: Tennessee has highest sales tax (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The sales tax is perhaps the easiest and most transparent of taxes to understand: people can reach into their pocket and see the rate printed on a receipt. But different local sales tax rates collected in 37 states can still be confusing with different charges on retail sales even within the same county. “These (local) rates can be substantial, so a state with a moderate statewide sales tax rate could actually have a very high combined state-local rate compared to other states,” Scott Drenkard of the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation said in a report released Monday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen pressing gun control at Obama’s speech (TFP/Carroll)

One of the perks of Congress? An extra ticket to prime-time politics. House and Senate members are allowed a guest each to this evening’s State of the Union address, and a Tennessee congressman is using the opportunity to push for tougher gun laws. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., confirmed Monday he’s inviting a relative of someone who died in December’s mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A Cohen spokesman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he didn’t have further details Monday.

Y-12 contractor slapped for UPF, microwave problems (News-Sentinel/Munger)

The Y-12 contractor’s 2012 performance evaluation was littered with “unsatisfactory” marks due not only to the stunning security breach in July but problems on other projects as well — including a costly design screw-up on the Uranium Processing Facility. The government last month released a summary of B&W Y-12’s performance review, saying the contractor had received only 58.9 percent of the total fee available ($60.9 million) for Fiscal Year 2012. That was by far the contractor’s worst evaluation in its 12 years of managing the Oak Ridge plant, and the summary specifically noted that B&W was docked $12.2 million in fees as a result of the July 28 break-in by anti-nuclear protesters.

Suburban groups ask Commission to drop fight against schools (CA/Bailey)

Leaders of school support groups in Shelby County’s three largest suburbs asked the County Commission on Monday to abandon its legal challenges to municipal schools because of potential funding cuts they believe will negatively impact education in their cities. Representatives from Better Bartlett Schools, Citizens of Collierville and My Germantown Schools stood on the steps outside the County Commission chambers surrounded by supporters before Monday’s commission meeting. They expressed concerns about preliminary budgets and potential cuts associated with combining of the county and Memphis City Schools systems.

County Commission Debates Schools Changes on Several Fronts (M. Daily News)\

Shelby County Commissioners who just last week seemed to agree on giving Memphis City Schools teachers living outside Shelby County five years to move within the county had some second thoughts Monday, Feb. 11, as they debated the schools merger issue. The commission ultimately voted to exempt MCS teachers hired by the school system before Sept. 1, 1986 – when the county charter residency requirement that applies to Shelby County Schools teachers took effect. And they approved a five year “grace period” for others living outside the county and hired after Sept. 1, 1986 to move within the county.

School Board Meets as Budget Debate Grows (Memphis Daily News)

Countywide school board members meet Tuesday, Feb. 12, in special session to send a still-forming budget for the first fiscal year of the consolidated school system to the Shelby County Commission. And “still forming” is the operative term in what amounts to the first of two rounds of budget interaction between the school board and the commission, which provides all local funding to the merged school system. From Tuesday’s session, the general budget estimate from the school board goes back to staff for either fine-tuning or an overhaul.

OPINION 

Editorial: Henry to DCS a step in right direction for department (Jackson Sun)

In an important turn for the better, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Jim Henry to become interim director of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Henry brings vast amounts of government, legislative and political experience to the table, along with a solid record as current commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. DCS needs a steady hand to help remake its image and to refine and improve the service it renders to thousands of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children. Henry is a solid choice to begin that process. DCS has been in turmoil for well over a decade.

Guest columnist: Virtual learning needs support in Tennessee (Tennessean)

Recently, there have been proposals to revoke the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act passed two years ago. Tennessee has lagged in funding and supporting technology in our schools for years, but we are one of the leading states when it comes to online and virtual learning. To stop that progress now would be a mistake. Tennessee does not have a statewide virtual high school, but several districts have opened virtual schools or programs. In Metro Schools, we have the first diploma-granting virtual school in the state. We are one of several state districts that now require students to take at least one online course before graduation.

Editorial: State’s kids deserve more than ‘virtual’ education (Daily News Journal)

Tennessee’s publicly funded Virtual Academy has failed its students, and we’re not sure the governor’s proposal to cap enrollment at 5,000 is a tough enough response. Instead, we believe the state should take the “virtual” out of the classroom and put its funding back in brick-and-mortar buildings staffed with flesh-and-blood teachers. Under a law passed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, the Virtual Academy began operations in the 2011-12 school year, enrolling 1,783 K-8 students from across the state. State payments to K12 are a little more than $5,000 per pupil. And what did that money get us in terms of a better education for our younger generation?

Times Editorial: Medicaid option: Haslam should step to the plate (TFP)

Like many Republican governors who opposed the Affordable Care Act in the run-up to last November’s election, Gov. Bill Haslam has been dithering, for mainly partisan reasons, over whether to accept significant federal aid to expand Medicaid coverage for the state’s uninsured working poor. He finally should take his cue from the six Republican governors elsewhere who have decided in the past few days that it is imminently sensible financially — and appropriately compassionate — to expand their Medicaid programs to cover citizens whose incomes range up to 133 percent of the federal poverty. It would be recklessly wrong and massively hurtful for Haslam to say no.

Editorial: State income tax is an issue that doesn’t really exist (News-Sentinel)

In the category of solving problems that don’t really exist, no group tries harder than the Tennessee Legislature. Thus, the proposed constitutional amendment to forever ban an income tax in Tennessee is a big waste of time for the state’s lawmakers and the people of the Volunteer State. No one has seriously proposed a state income tax in more than a decade. That was in 2002 when Republican Don Sundquist was governor, both houses had a majority of Democrats and there were claims that TennCare was exploding the state budget. A horn-honking protest around the state capitol helped turned the tide against the income tax — whose passage at that time was far from assured.

Editorial: Great teachers are at education’s core (Commercial Appeal)

One hundred of the nation’s most outstanding educators wrapped up three days of presentations and workshops in Memphis on Sunday. They talked a lot about school reform efforts, the impact of race and poverty on a child’s ability to learn, and what practices make effective teachers. The event that brought these educators to Memphis was the America Achieves Fellowship for Teachers and Principals Spring 2013 meeting. Jon Schnur, America Achieves’ executive chairman, told The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board that the crux of all that discussion was preparing teachers to teach for the real world. That means getting students to think critically about how to come up with answers to questions.

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