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March 1 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Appoints Stevens to 6th Circuit (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Deborah C. Stevens of Knoxville as Circuit Court Judge for the 6th Judicial District in Knox County following the retirement of Judge Wheeler A. Rosenbalm. “I am pleased to appoint Deborah Stevens in light of her 30-year career,” Haslam said. “She has an extensive track record that will serve the district well.” Since 1998, Stevens has served as president and managing shareholder of Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, a firm with more than 60 lawyers and offices in Knoxville and Nashville.

New UTC chancellor to make more than $300,000 annually (Times Free-Press/Jett)

Steven Angle will make more than $300,000 annually if he is named the next chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The University of Tennessee board’s executive and compensation committee unanimously approved Angle’s potential salary during a meeting Thursday morning. Should he be approved by the board of trustees, Angle will get $291,000 per year in base salary, plus $7,000 per year for job-related expenses and a $20,000-a-year housing allowance.

UT trustees give initial OK to new chancellor, retention bonuses (NS/Bohenke)

University of Tennessee trustees Thursday gave tentative approval to a new chancellor for the Chattanooga campus and a potential $1 million in retention bonuses for other leaders across the system. Steven Angle, senior vice president at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, would start on July 1 and earn a base salary of $291,000 should the full board of trustees approve his hire today. “He has tremendous experience running an institution like Chattanooga in many ways,” said UT President Joe DiPietro.

MTSU researching whether constable allowed to carry weapon on campus (DNJ)

Officials at MTSU are trying to determine whether state law gives an elected constable the authority to carry his weapon on a college campus. Joshua Nelson, 22, a full-time student and an elected Hickman County constable, was asked to remove his gun from his campus dorm room this past Tuesday after officers became suspicious about a vehicle parked outside of Schardt Hall that appeared to be equipped for law enforcement. Officers later determined by talking to Nelson at his dorm that charges would not be appropriate but that the campus’ judicial affairs office would need to look at whether he violated student policy.

MTSU Poll: Tennesseans want wine in grocery stores (Daily News Journal)

Consistent with the results of previous polling, when asked “… do you favor or oppose letting grocery, convenience and other stores that sell food in Tennessee sell wine if they are located in places that allow the sale of alcoholic beverages?”, 65 percent of Tennesseans say that they are in favor, with only 24 percent opposed; the remainder say they don’t know or refuse to answer. Furthermore, majorities of Democrats and Republicans, evangelical Christians and non-evangelicals, and the young and the old all favor allowing wine sales in groceries, convenience stores, and other stores that sell food.  

Scope of Vouchers Proposal In Question (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s top education official says a school vouchers proposal is meant to focus on students in schools so bad the state is taking some of them over. The administration is at odds with the lawmaker carrying its signature education bill, who says it’s too narrow, and wants it to reach more children. The vouchers proposal would help poor families in the state’s worst schools, to afford tuition at private schools instead. Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says it’s a relatively narrow group.

Haslam signs legislation overhauling the Erlanger Health Services board (TFP)

Gov. Bill Haslam today signed legislation overhauling the Erlanger Health Services board, his office says. The legislation was introduced by Hamilton County lawmakers to address problems at the public hospital. Tonight, at what may be the final meeting of the Erlanger board in its current configuration, trustees are meeting to vote on a contract for new CEO Kevin Spiegel. 

Haslam ‘likely’ to sign parking lot guns bill (Associated Press/Schelzig)

A spokesman says Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is “likely” to sign into law a bill to allow the state’s nearly 400,000 handgun carry permit holders to store firearms in their cars no matter where they are parked. The House on Thursday passed the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby on a 72-22 vote. Before the vote, Speaker Beth Harwell assured Republican colleagues that the measure is endorsed by the National Rifle Association and that members of the business community are “holding their noses” about its passage despite concerns about security and property rights.

House sends guns-in-lots bill to Haslam, who will likely sign (City Paper/Zelinski)

Months after the National Rifle Association took down a Republican legislator for standing in the way of a key gun bill, the state legislature has delivered the NRA’s bill to the governor for his approval. Gov. Bill Haslam was concerned early on about the parameters of the legislation and was particularly concerned about allowing guns on college campuses, but a spokesman told The City Paper the governor will probably sign the measure into law. “The governor will review this bill, like he does all bills, when it comes to his desk, but he will likely sign it,” said Dave Smith, the governor’s spokesman.

Guns-in-trunks passage ends 4-year battle over bill (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would let handgun owners with permits carry their weapons in their cars anywhere they go, putting an apparent end to a four-year fight between business owners and gun rights advocates. Lawmakers voted 72-22 to pass a guns-in-trunks bill that lifts criminal penalties on carrying a handgun into a parking lot, even a school, university or workplace. The vote comes as Congress debates tougher gun laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting in December.

Guns-in-cars bill heads to Gov. Haslam’s desk (Nashville Business Journal)

A bill expanding the rights of employees to keep guns in their locked cars while at work was given final approval today, according to media reports, and is now heading to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam. The House passed the legislation 72-22. According to The Commercial Appeal, Haslam is expected to sign the bill into law.The bill removes criminal penalties against permit holders for keeping a gun locked in their cars while at work. Democrats were unsuccessful in their attempts today to water down the bill.

Haslam ‘likely’ to sign ‘guns in parking lots’ bill (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam “will likely” sign legislation letting handgun-carry permit holders keep firearms in their cars on most parking lots, a spokesman said Thursday. “The governor will review this bill, like he does all bills, when it comes to his desk, but he will likely sign it,” Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an email. The House passed the bill 72-22 on Thursday. The Senate passed it Feb. 12. The bill affects the nearly 400,000 permit holders in Tennessee as well as permit holders who visit the state.

Tennessee legislature approves guns-in-parking-lots bill (C. Appeal/Locker)

Starting July 1, people with handgun-carry permits can keep guns in their locked cars on most parking lots in Tennessee — including at most workplaces — against the business owner’s objections without fear of state or local criminal charges. But while there’ll be no government intervention, their employer can still fire or otherwise sanction them for violating company policy. And non-permit holders can still face criminal charges. That’s the gist of the debate over the guns-in-parking-lots bill that won final legislative approval 72-22 on Thursday in the state House.  

Guns-in-Trunks Heads to Haslam (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A bill that would allow handgun permit holders to store firearms just about anywhere they park is poised to become law. The so-called guns-in-trunks legislation now goes to the governor after being passed by the state House. There would have been very little debate but for 13 amendments proposed mostly by Democrats at the last minute. Most would have exempted certain property owners. Sponsor Jeremy Faison of East Tennessee says he had no intention of allowing any amendments.

TN Senate unanimously passes youth concussion bill (Tennessean/Rau)

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill that would provide protections for youth athletes who suffer concussions by preventing them from returning to play until cleared by a doctor. The bill will now move on to the state House, where it will first be considered by a subcommittee next week.The bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, has touted the legislation as providing important protections to prevent young athletes from suffering serious brain injuries by returning to their sport too soon after a concussion.

TN bill with tougher rules for ticket sales loses 4 co-sponsors (Tennessean/White)

Four Tennessee lawmakers who had been listed as co-sponsors of a bill that seeks to impose stricter regulations on event ticketing practices and the ticket resale market have pulled their support of the measure. House Bill 1000, also known as the Fairness in Ticketing Act bill, has lost the backing of Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet; Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton; Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett; and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greenville, according to a news release sent out by an organization that opposes the legislation.  

Norris Files Job Training Legislation (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has filed legislation that would create a new statewide initiative aimed at shoring up workers’ job skills and addressing labor shortages among Tennessee employers. Norris’ bill creates what would be called the Labor Education Alignment Program, or LEAP. The idea is to merge traditional college coursework with technical training, allowing students at the state’s technology centers and community colleges an opportunity to pair occupational training in a high-skill or high-tech industry with academic credit. Students could then apply that experience toward a degree. 

Alexander introduces bill to prevent Corps from restricting fishing (TN/Barton)

Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced legislation Thursday to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from restricting fishing in the tailwaters below Cumberland River dams. Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said in a prepared statement that the Corps was pushing an “unreasonable plan to restrict fishing below Cumberland River dams that will destroy remarkably good recreational opportunities and many jobs.” The Corps, citing safety concerns, has proposed restricting public access to the fishing waters below 10 dams on the Cumberland River and its tributaries.

U.S. Senate rejects alternatives to $85B spending cuts (USA Today, Tennessean)

The U.S. Senate on Thursday failed to pass either Republican or Democratic alternatives to $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts, nearly guaranteeing that the cuts will take effect today. The Democratic alternative would have replaced the cuts with a combination of a minimum 30 percent tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm programs. It failed 51-49. “I really believe that the American people deserve better than what the Republicans in this building believe is the right thing,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Thousands of Fort Campbell employees face furlough (Associated Press/Hall)

On the eve of automatic military budget cuts, Fort Campbell’s garrison commander said Thursday that the installation’s 8,000 civilian employees could face up to 22 unpaid days off this year. Col. David L. “Buck” Dellinger said the unpaid days are needed to offset at least $55 million in budget cuts scheduled to hit the home of the 101st Airborne Division, one of the most heavily deployed Army units since 9/11. Fort Campbell’s leaders are constantly revising budget plans as they prepare for the local impact of $46 billion in overall Pentagon reductions scheduled to start taking effect today, Dellinger said.

Sequester would hurt Memphis, Mid-South (Commercial Appeal/Sullivan)

The Mid-South stands to lose millions in federal payroll dollars and see a decline in overall consumer spending if the sequester of federal funds, scheduled to take effect Friday, lingers late into the fiscal year, politicians and experts said Thursday. White House estimates of the impact on Tennessee and Mississippi show teachers and teachers’ aides could be cut by $20.2 million between now and Sept. 30, and put an estimated 280 jobs in both states at risk. Head Start services for 2,800 children could be lost.  

Confusion surrounds sequestration cuts (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

“It’s premature for me to speculate.” “There’s not a lot I can tell you.” “No communication from the federal government.” “We’ve not yet received guidance.” “It’s very frustrating.” Welcome to five Sequestration Eve responses from state agencies in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Barring a truly 11th-hour deal, they began cutting at midnight, doing their part to accomplish an $85 billion nationwide slash. Thing is, nobody knows where to start. “We are not in a position to speculate on the matter until a final decision has been reached at the federal level,” Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Thursday.

Fort Campbell on sequester: ‘We’re not managing, we’re leading’ (Leaf Chronicle)

As the rhetoric on sequester is ratcheted up in Washington, D.C., closer to home Fort Campbell officials sent a message that the post will continue the mission, whatever the mission is. Said Col. Buck Dellinger, Fort Campbell Garrison Commander, “We’re not managing, we’re leading.” Dellinger began a morning press conference on the effects of sequestration on post with a short overview, followed by answers on a host of questions regarding the status of furloughs and much more. He stressed that though the demands imposed by fiscal uncertainty were challenging, they were not debilitating in terms of managing Fort Campbell.

Federal judge tosses out big companies’ flood suit (Nashville Post)

District Court Judge Todd Campbell on Thursday ruled that the former Gaylord Entertainment and A.O. Smith and other companies cannot move forward with damage claims against the federal government related to the May 2010 flood. The companies, which had been joined by Gibson Guitar and Nissan North America as well as others, had accused the Army Corps of Engineers of negligence in its handling of the heavy rains that caused millions of dollars in property damage along the Cumberland River almost three years ago. The companies filed suit in April of last year.

Army Corps Immune to Suits Over 2010 Flood, Judge Rules (WPLN-Radio Nash)

A federal judge is dismissing lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its handling of the May 2010 flood. A lawyer for a group of insurance companies says it’s not yet clear whether they’ll appeal. The flood inundated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property downstream of dams run by the Corps. Many, like Gibson Guitar and the owners of Opryland Hotel, blamed the agency, saying if it had managed its dams differently the destruction wouldn’t have been so severe. Robert Echols, a retired judge himself, represented one of the groups trying to sue.

Erlanger CEO to be paid $680,000 (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Harrison)

Erlanger’s new CEO will make a $680,000 salary and receive a $50,000 sign on bonus, according to the contract unanimously approved Thursday night by the hospital’s board of trustees. Kevin Spiegel will take the helm of Erlanger on April 1 with a contract that will initially run three years, with automatic one-year renewal afterward. He will make the most of any Erlanger CEO in history — and about 18 times the average Chattanoogan’s pay — but chief administrative officer Gregg Gentry said the figure hovers below the mid-range of what other hospitals of Erlanger’s size and scope are paying their top executives.

Hospital deadline missed in Scott County (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Harrington)

Efforts to reopen the hospital in Scott County hit another hurdle Thursday when a Texas company failed to meet a filing deadline with the state attorney general’s office. The Scott County Commission had given S.M. Promen until 5:30 p.m. to submit proof of adequate net worth to operate the hospital and signed operational agreements. Per a resolution passed by the county commission on Feb. 19, a purchase asset agreement between Scott County and S.M. Promen would be automatically terminated if the deadline is missed, Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals said.

Employees hope Merita deal will restore jobs (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Now that Hostess Brands appears to have a new owner, former employees in Knoxville hope this means the Powell Bakery will be back in operation before long. According to news reports, Flowers Foods Inc. bought Hostess Brands in a bankruptcy auction Thursday, picking up most Hostess bread brands, including Merita, with a $360 million offer. Flowers Foods did not return phone and email requests for comment. The sale will have to meet a judge’s approval, and a hearing has been set for 10 a.m., March 19, in New York’s Southern District bankruptcy court.

Nashville’ draws on local stars, but ratings drop 9 percent (Nashville Biz Journal)

ABC’s “Nashville” pulled out all the stops last night: Pam Tillis, Dan Auerbach, Vince Gill and Kip Moore were littered throughout a scene at The Bluebird Café, but the show failed to keep its ratings. The show’s dropped 9 percent to 3.7, meaning 3.7 percent of households were tuned to the show, down from a 4.3 rating on Feb. 13, according to SpoilerTV, citing Nielsen Ratings. This compares with a 4.5 rating for NBC’s “Chicago Fire” and a 6.7 rating for CBS’ “CSI,” which compete against “Nashville” in the 9 p.m. time slot.

Schools judge may play ‘king’ in merging Memphis schools (C. Appeal/McMillin)

The words directly from the federal judge were unequivocal — merger of Memphis schools with suburban schools must be completed by July 1, and he’ll play “king” and force decisions if that’s what it takes. U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays released a transcript of a Monday status conference with attorneys. Based on a status report from Shelby County Board of Education general counsel Valerie Speakman, the judge appeared startled and dissatisfied that the board was not farther along in implementing a merger plan finalized last summer by the county’s Transition Planning Commission.  

Merger Special Master Could Have Different Terms (Memphis Daily News)

The Shelby County Commission, the city of Memphis and suburban Shelby County leaders all agree details of the merger of public schools in Shelby County could come down to a federal court order. But in their filings Wednesday, Feb. 27, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, there are some differences in how the three parties in the federal lawsuit believe the court might become involved directly in the merger. Two of the three advocate the return of an emphasis on the work of the consolidation planning commission and its recommendations on a merger.

School Board Approves Outsourcing After Long Debate (Memphis Daily News)

Countywide school board members approved Thursday, Feb. 28, the first of the three most controversial schools merger recommendations they are likely to face – outsourcing custodial services across the single merged school system. But the board the voted down the recommendation from its staff to award the bid to one of six bidders for an estimated savings of $11.5 million. School board chairman Billy Orgel indicated he will move to rescind the vote on the second item possibly as early as the March 5 school board meeting.

Nashville schools to help link needy kids to food, health services (TN/Fingeroot)

Since the days of one-room schoolhouses, individual teachers have quietly asked for a little help getting their students a book, a winter coat or even food to quiet an empty stomach. Now, though, Metro Nashville educators are voicing these needs loud and clear. Metro school officials on Thursday formally launched an organized plan that gives teachers and other school personnel a clear path for requests. The plan also provides a way to create partnerships between schools and organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank, which has a pantry in one Metro middle school, or a health care agency such as the one that has a nurse practitioner in several Metro schools to serve students and parents on a sliding fee scale adjusted for income.

Parents, teachers discuss options for helping Vine Middle improve (NS/McCoy)

Peggy Hardwig, who has a seventh-grader at Vine Middle Performing Arts and Sciences Magnet School, told officials Thursday that parents aren’t “just concerned” about the school, “we’re also crazy about this school.” Hardwig was one of several parents, teachers and students who spoke at a second community meeting held at the school to discuss how turn to it around. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre and other officials also attended. School board members will discuss and could vote on the next steps to take with the middle school at its meetings next week.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Bill fails to consider the big picture (Commercial Appeal)

State Sen. Brian Kelsey’s proposed bill to block any expansion of the vehicle emissions-testing program is premature and shortsighted. Memphis will be out of the emissions-testing business after June 30, saying air quality is a county responsibility. Shelby County officials say they have no intention to assume responsibility for testing, which means the state will likely take over emissions testing like it has in five other Tennessee counties. We understand the Germantown Republican’s attempt to make sure suburban Shelby County residents will not have to have their vehicles inspected, but he is not seeing the big picture. Air quality is a regional issue, but only Memphians have to get their cars inspected.

Editorial: Congress needs to develop, share sense of urgency (News-Sentinel)

Congress got back from its Presidents Day recess Monday and immediately got down to the pressing business at the top of its calendar.The House was to spend the next few days reauthorizing and amending the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate was to confirm a judicial nominee and then get down to the contentious but more or less foreordained confirmation of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. And today, barring an improbable 11th-hour deal Thursday night, the $85 billion across-the-board government spending cut — the dreaded “sequester” — automatically went into effect. Depending on which party is doing the talking, the cuts will range from inconvenient and mildly annoying to deeply painful and economically damaging.

Editorial: Washington’s failure to govern is shameful (Jackson Sun)

As of press time Thursday night, it appeared Washington would fail to prevent automatic, ill-advised budget cuts that begin taking effect today. This reflects failed leadership by all parties. Sequestration was intended to be such a negative alternative that the 2011 congressional Super Committee would be motivated to do its job and come up with budget cuts that made sense, and that the nation could live with without damaging the economy. That demanded compromise and cooperation, neither of which materialized. Sequestration is nothing less than a failure to govern, which sets a dangerous precedent, damages the nation’s image, and likely will damage the nation’s struggling economy.

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