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February 17 TN News Digest

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

Improving I-40: Officials hope to widen highway and rework interchanges (J. Sun)

Amer Al-Jafari owns the Casey Jones Mini Mart at the corner of the U.S. 45 Bypass and Casey Jones Lane. His business is the first gas station drivers see when they leave the eastbound lanes of Interstate 40 at Exit 80A. Al-Jafari said the exit by his gas station is the front door to Jackson and also could be a convenient place to get gas and visit Casey Jones Village. But Al-Jafari says the door is broken, and even dangerously so. He said out-of-town travelers ask him each week how to get back onto the interstate.  

Baker Center hires first faculty member (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vines)

The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee has hired its first faculty member into the Center who will help pursue research grants even as a major federal grant is set to run out in July. To that end, the Center also has hired a development director who is specializing in corporate gifts to support programs, including a distinguished lecturer series honoring Baker, a former U.S. senator, White House chief of staff and U.S. ambassador to Japan, who lives in Huntsville, Tenn. Matt Murray, an economist who has directed the Baker Center for a little more than a year, said Charles Sims, a Knoxvillian who has degrees from UT and the University of Wyoming, will join the staff in August.

MTSU has most graduates in TBR system (Daily News Journal)

MTSU produced the Tennessee Board of Regents’ most graduates in 2011-12 and accomplished this with the lowest costs, the university boasted Friday. “The Complete College Tennessee Act calls for colleges and universities to focus on student retention, degree completion, improvement in the areas of transfer and articulation, and institutional mission distinctiveness,” Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee said in a news release. “MTSU had already made those goals a strategic priority.

Five apply to be next circut judge (Times-Gazette)

Five attorneys have applied to fill a vacancy created by the impending retirement of a Circuit Court judge. Tennessee’s Judicial Nominating Commission will hold a public meeting at 9 a.m. Friday, March 8 at the Blue Ribbon Circle Club/Celebration Grounds to interview the following candidates: *Forest A. Durard, Jr., a solo practitioner based in Shelbyville. *Brooke Charles Grubb, an assistant district attorney general for the 17th Judicial District in Fayetteville. *Barbara G. Medley, a partner at the law firm Medley & Spivy in Lewisburg.

States’ rights bills flooding Tennessee capitol (Tennessean/Humphrey)

GOP proposals seek limitations on federal authority Tennessee legislators this year are calling for a broad array of limitations on federal government authority within the state, a movement that the speakers of the House and Senate say reflects growing concern within the Republican supermajority. “The number of bills (filed) indicates that this is a Legislature that firmly believes in states’ rights,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell. “The federal government is not running properly and state government is. … That is the driving force.”

Lawmaker expense bill hits snag in Senate (Tennessean/Sisk)

A proposal to reduce expense reimbursements for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol hit its first snag Tuesday when an amendment was presented to make other lawmakers account for where they spend the night. Political momentum had been building behind a bill brought by state Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, that would cut $66 from the $173 “per diem” payments made to local lawmakers to reimburse them for expenses. Haile and other backers say lawmakers who live near Nashville usually drive home each night and should not take the portion of per diems designated for hotel lodging.  

Second Look Commission’s funding gets a second look (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

There’s movement at the legislature to continue funding for the Second Look Commission, the expert group that examines the worst cases of child abuse in Tennessee. In its latest newsletter published Thursday, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth focused exclusively on the work of the Second Look Commission and argued that the group should not be allowed to “sunset” and be disbanded. “It is a critical entity because involvement of all groups represented on the SLC is essential for assuring Tennessee responds effectively to child abuse and neglect,” the newsletter says.

Hill defends bill targeting Bluff City’s speed cameras (Times-News)

Tennessee state Rep. Timothy Hill remains committed to his legislation banning Bluff City’s speed enforcement cameras despite criticism from the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen. “I’m disappointed with the name calling,” Hill, R-Blountville, said when asked for a response to that criticism occurring at a board meeting Thursday night. “That doesn’t advance any discussion. … I’m surprised that if the city is that concerned with my legislation — I figured they would be — I’m surprised they have not reached out to me at this point. I’ve never been invited to a BMA meeting. I have yet to have one of their aldermen reach out to me in any form or fashion to have a discussion on this.”

Dickey’s knuckleball, Dunn’s title honored (Tennessean/Sisk)

The General Assembly passed a pair of resolutions Wednesday honoring Tennesseans for unexpected athletic achievements relatively late in their careers. Lawmakers gave a nod to R.A. Dickey, the journeyman pitcher who, at 37 years old, won his first Cy Young Award last fall. In a nice bit of rhetorical flourish, Senate Joint Resolution 99 noted Dickey’s “unrivaled knuckleball” that “mowed down batters by the score as they failed to make solid contact with the baffling pitch only a rare few have perfected.”

Dean’s support of charter school decision-maker triggers backlash (TN/Garrison)

In backing controversial legislation to give the state new authority to approve charter schools in Nashville, Mayor Karl Dean strengthened his credentials as the city’s foremost charter champion. He also agitated Democratic state lawmakers, disappointed allies in Metro government and cut deeper into a policy divide between him and the Metro school board. The latter was apparent Tuesday night immediately after the state House Education Subcommittee voted 6-3 to advance a bill pushed by Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Some counties give, some take in state funding (Knox News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Lake County, which borders the Mississippi River, and Sevier County, which borders North Carolina in the Smoky Mountains, differ fiscally almost as much as they do geographically, a review of Tennessee tax and spending data shows. On a per-capita basis, the county that encompasses Reelfoot Lake and a major prison is receiving more state tax dollars than any other this year. On the same basis, the county that encompasses Dollywood and Clingmans Dome is contributing more tax dollars to state government than any of the other 94 counties.  

Money, gay provision snag anti-violence legislation (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Tennessee and Georgia senators last week joined 74 colleagues in voting to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, but some local House Republicans aren’t sold on doing the same. As the latest budget fight rages between President Barack Obama and House Republicans, the measure’s $600 million cost and new protections for homosexuals are prompting questions that never surfaced in the bill’s first three approvals. U.S. Rep. John “Jimmy” Duncan Jr., a Knoxville Republican, said most constituents wouldn’t be unreasonable in expecting him to cast a supporting vote.

Fincher helps form Mississippi River Caucus (Jackson Sun)

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, and five other lawmakers formed the bipartisan and bicameral Mississippi River Caucus on Thursday and are inviting other members of Congress to join. The Mississippi River Caucus leadership consists of six co-chairmen: Fincher, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark.; Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.; Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The primary objective of the caucus is to provide a bicameral and bipartisan open forum for the various issues that affect the entire reach of the Mississippi River, according to a news release.

Conservative blog endorses Rep. Carr (Tennessean/Sisk)

RedState, the conservative blog, published a piece last week touting state Rep. Joe Carr’s credentials in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District. RedState described Carr, R-Murfreesboro, as a “rising GOP star … in the mold of Allen West,” the tea party favorite and one-term congressman from Florida. RedState gave Carr credit for pursuing immigration legislation, opposing a state health insurance exchange and filing legislation that would try to nullify federal gun restrictions. RedState contrasted Carr with state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Murfreesboro, who the blog said has shied away from tough issues in the state legislature.  

Secretary of Education to speak at Baker Center (News-Sentinel/Vines)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will speak at the University of Tennessee at 1 p.m. April 3 in the Student Center auditorium as part of a distinguished lecture series honoring former U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. Matt Murray, director of the Baker Center for Public Policy at UT, said Duncan was suggested by Baker’s wife, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, a former U.S. senator from Kansas. Duncan has been education secretary since 2009 at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term.

States’ choices set up national health experiment (AP/Alonso-Zaldivar)

America about evenly split on states that accept or decline President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is unfolding as a national experiment with American consumers as the guinea pigs: Who will do a better job getting uninsured people covered, the states or the feds? The nation is about evenly split between states that decided by Friday’s deadline they want a say in running new insurance markets and states that are defaulting to federal control because they don’t want to participate in “Obamacare.”

Gun Advocates Press for More Inroads on Campuses (New York Times)

Public colleges and universities have become a major front in the nation’s debate over guns as gun-rights advocates press to expand the right to carry concealed weapons, a campaign that gained steam after the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead. And though guns remain banned from most state colleges, pro-gun forces, in a series of high-decibel legal and political battles, have made inroads on the issue in a handful of states, most recently Colorado. But the clashes seem divorced from realities on campus.

Some Erlanger doctors oppose CEO vote (Times Free-Press/Harrison)

On the eve of a vote that could set Erlanger Health System’s new CEO in place, a group of senior physicians with the hospital is strongly urging the board of trustees to hold off. More than a dozen physicians — several in top positions at the hospital — have signed a letter stating that doctors are “seriously concerned” about recent events surrounding the hospital’s leadership. They worry that a seismic shift in hospital leadership at this time will lead to the deterioration of physician relationships, prompting another exodus like the one seen under former CEO Jim Brexler as well as continued financial turmoil for the hospital.  

Downtown Memphis looks beyond Pinnacle (Commercial Appeal/Risher)

After the Grizzlies’ tipoff, after the curtain went up at The Orpheum, the crowds lingered at nearby Downtown clubs and restaurants on a recent weekend night. The dean of Downtown Memphis developers, Henry Turley Jr., made his way from the Parking Can Be Fun garage to FedExForum and marveled at the drawing power of Aldo’s Pizza, Local Gastropub, Majestic Grille and other trendy spots. It was in stark contrast to a stroll through the lobby of the venerable 100 North Main office building (formerly the UP Bank building) at closing time on a weekday.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: State Senate disregards concerns with ‘guns in trunks’ bill (Tennessean)

Faster than a speeding bullet, the state Senate approved legislation last Monday that will make businesses and college campuses a lot less safe. Sponsors of the notorious “guns in trunks” bill say that the opposite is true. The rest of us, who have memories, recall Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed and 17 wounded by a gunman on April 16, 2007. Numerous workplace shootings occurred nationwide over the past 30 years, too, because people who are busy at their jobs can easily be caught unaware by an aggrieved co-worker. It is precisely why employers prohibit firearms in the workplace. For college campuses, the dangers are even more complicated.

 

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: “The Parking Lot” (Times Free-Press)

 

Jack McElroy: Transparency needed in DCS case (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The State of Tennessee says it will cost more than $55,000 to produce summary reports on the deaths or near deaths of 200 children, which the Department of Children’s Service has been ordered to provide to a media coalition that includes the News Sentinel. The attorney general has spelled out the expense in great detail, beginning with how the files must be hand-delivered from offices throughout Tennessee. State workers earning $16.39 an hour would drive the files to regional offices, then on to Nashville, then back again, a total of more than 14,000 miles at $0.47 per mile. In Nashville, the “pertinent portions” would be identified by four employees working for two weeks at $22.16 an hour.

Tom Humphrey: Lawmakers happy to crow about cockfighting bill (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee legislators have been fighting over cockfighting for decades and, as with many morality matters in our state and elsewhere, the squawking boils down to whether traditional values or emerging values prevail in the pecking order of our collective consciousness. That collective consciousness, of course, is reflected in the people we elect as our state representatives and senators, and what they can agree upon without ruffling too many feathers. It does not involve a question of which came first, as with the chicken or the egg. The traditionalists came first. Andrew Jackson raised fighting roosters. He also had slaves.

Ken Yager: Let’s make public notices available to everyone (Tennessean)

The issue of whether local governments should post public notices on their own Internet website is a question that was discussed more than once in the Senate State and Local Government Committee during the 107th General Assembly. The issue is sure to come up in the 108th. Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures, are suggesting that they can save money by posting notices on their respective websites rather than posting the notice in the local newspaper. Before coming to the Senate in 2009, I had the privilege to serve as a county executive for 24 years. My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation for the importance of this issue. The cost of running a public notice is an investment, not a mere expenditure.

Editorial: Schools budget misses the mark (Commercial Appeal)

The Shelby County unified school board’s proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year asks the County Commission to give the newly merged district $145 million more than it gave county schools last year. That is big-time sticker shock, even with the understanding that the new district will include the former Memphis City Schools as well as county schools. It would take a $1 increase in the county property tax rate to fund the amount requested. County commissioners, even some who support the schools merger, are saying there is no way they will agree to fund that amount. The commission has the responsibility to set funding for the schools as part of its budget process for county government.

Gail Kerr: Courage wins as underpaid workers get their due (Tennessean)

Nashville is becoming increasingly intolerant. And that’s a good thing. No, we’re not returning back to discrimination or becoming bigots, or anything of that sort. Instead, Nashville leaders are cracking down on bad employers, ones who mistreat low-wage workers by stealing their fair pay. We’re talking about construction and restaurant workers, cleaning crews and other manual laborers. A group of construction workers — many of them homeless — last week filed a lawsuit against a day labor company called Trojan Labor, which supplies workers for building projects, including the Music City Center. Workers are paid minimum wage, just $7.25 an hour, or, if it’s a city project, $12.24 an hour.

Note: The news-clips will resume Tuesday, February 19.

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