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March 16 TN News Digest

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

 

Four Faces Of Conservatism: Possible Directions For The GOP (WRLN Miami)

Is it the message or its delivery? That’s one of the questions being debated as Republicans — like all parties that have lost a national election — plot their comeback… The Pragmatist: Bill Haslam Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, has lately been getting the kind of attention that in the past politicians might have basked in, but which now makes them a little nervous. His record on issues such as education and economic development have won him praise at home and from Washington outlets such as Politico, which called him “The GOP star you’ve never heard of.”

Governor Haslam Signs Guns In Parking Lots Bill (Associated Press)

Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill that would allow people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked. The signing comes despite questions about whether the legislation affects employment law in Tennessee. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and four fellow Republican co-sponsors on Thursday submitted a letter for inclusion into the Senate Journal elaborating on their legislative intent for the measure.

Haslam signs bill for guns in cars (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Thursday to allow handgun permit holders to carry guns in their vehicles while at work. The bill, which removes criminal penalties against permit holders for keeping a gun locked in their cars while at work, was opposed by business groups, though not as vocally as last year. Based on the experience of other states, the law isn’t expected to keep businesses from locating to Tennessee, as we reported earlier this month.

TN governor signs guns-in-trunks bill (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill letting handgun permit holders carry their guns anywhere in their cars, including to work, provided they keep them locked up in their vehicles. A spokesman for the governor said Friday that Haslam had signed the “guns-in-trunks” measure, Senate Bill 142, after a lengthy and politically costly debate in the state legislature. Haslam made no statement on the decision. The measure takes effect July 1. Business and gun rights groups in Tennessee sparred for four years over legislation meant to bar employers from keeping their workers from storing guns in their cars in company parking lots.

Haslam signs guns-in-lots bill (City Paper/Zelinski)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the controversial guns-in-trunks bill into law Thursday, despite expressing initial concern over allowing guns on college campuses. The legislation easily won approval in the legislature last month after becoming an election issue in the 2012 Republican primary. “Its purpose is simple: to ensure that the right to bear arms is not effectively nullified by policies that force people to leave their firearms at home when they go to work or carry on their daily routines,” read a letter from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the bill’s sponsor, and four other state Senators.

Tennessee Governor signs guns-in-parking-lots bill (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam signed Friday the “guns-in-parking-lots” bill that will allow people with handgun-carry permits to keep guns in their locked vehicles on most parking lots in Tennessee. Law affecting permit holders goes into effect July 1 Haslam signed the bill, which goes into effect July 1, without public comment, along with a batch of other bills. The contentious measure was sought by gun advocates since 2009. It applies only to handgun-carry permit holders, who may keep guns in their locked vehicles at most workplaces and businesses and not violate state law.

DCS investigating shooting of baby (Tennessean/Wadhwani, Tamburin)

The Department of Children’s Services has begun its own investigation into the family of a 10-month-old boy killed in what police say may have been an accidental shooting by his father. Adam Bass was fatally shot in the chest by his father, Larry Bass, 30, Thursday evening in their room at the Extended Stay America hotel on Elm Hill Pike, where the family was living. The father was handling a semiautomatic pistol when the gun went off, Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said. Police said that the infant’s mother, Jacqueline Bass, 28, and two brothers, ages 2 and 3 years old, were in the room at the time of the shooting.

Tennessee approves UT ‘fracking’ plan (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Brogdon)

The Tennessee Building Commission unanimously approved a request Friday by the University of Tennessee to allow hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on 8,636 acres in the university’s Cumberland Forest. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes, who sits on the executive subcommittee of the commission, made a motion to approve the request after hearing three hours of comments from the university and 25 other private speakers for and against the proposal.

Building Commission: UT fracking research project can go forward (NS/Boehnke)

The executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission today gave the University of Tennessee the OK to move forward with a plan to lease its land in Scott and Morgan counties for a fracking research project. The unanimous decision came after more than three hours of testimony from UT administrators, environmental activists and industry personnel. The subcommittee is chaired by state Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes, and includes Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Comptroller Justin Wilson and Treasurer David Lillard.

University of Tennessee Wins Approval for Hydraulic Fracturing Plan (NY Times)

The University of Tennessee faced protests here on Friday over its proposal to let a private company drill for natural gas across a forest controlled by the university. Environmentalists say opening the Cumberland Forest in eastern Tennessee to hydraulic fracturing, a process known as “fracking,” could harm wildlife and scenery on the 8,000-acre tract of state-owned land. But the university says it would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research.

House Limits Local Authority on Wage-Setting Mandates (TN Report)

Despite a rather testy exchange between the two parties’ caucus chairs about the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act” on the House floor Thursday, the bill passed 66-27-1 and heads for the Senate committee process beginning next week The chamber’s approval moves House Bill 501 one stop closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit cities and counties from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees as a condition of obtaining local-government contracts or operating in the jurisdiction.

TN Senate: No Library Cards to Vote, College ID’s OK (TN Report)

A bill clarifying what types of photo identification Tennesseans can use at polling places passed the state Senate Thursday, but some lawmakers were unhappy with certain forms of ID that were added to the list. The sponsor of Senate Senate Bill 125, Bill Ketron, reworked some language in the existing voter ID law to prohibit ID’s issued by counties or municipalities, like library cards, from being used to gain access to the ballot box, while also allowing students to use their college ID’s to vote.

Middle TN microbreweries craft ale to protest high beer tax (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Yazoo, Calfkiller seek change in law Instead of dumping beverages to protest what they consider an unfair tax, two Middle Tennessee microbreweries have created one. Their “oppressively refreshing” protest beer, dubbed The Beacon: A Tennessee High Tax Ale, will make its debut next week — just as state lawmakers consider bills to change how the state calculates its highest-in-the-nation beer tax. The craft beer’s creators, Yazoo Brewing Co. of Nashville and Calfkiller Brewing Co. of Sparta, Tenn., say there’s a serious message behind the tongue-in-cheek name.

UT criticized in Tennessee Senate over ‘Sex Week’ (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Get ready, University of Tennessee at Knoxville officials, the fire is coming fast and furious from social conservatives and at least one state lawmaker following Fox News Radio’s airing of a story about students’ upcoming “Sex Week.” The April event, funded to the tune of nearly $20,000 through university money and student fees, features a lesbian bondage expert and a campuswide hunt for a “golden condom,” according to a story on the conservative website Campus Reform, from which Fox News Radio got wind of the matter.

Speaker Harwell offers thoughts on Legislature, women in government (NS/Vines)

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, a former university professor with a doctorate degree in social studies education, knows the theory of running government as well as the practice of doing it. “It’s important to always have a critical eye on the government,” she said Wednesday, meeting with students from my public affairs reporting class from the University of Tennessee. The students spent two days in Nashville to observe the Legislature and had 15 minutes with Harwell in her conference room.

Memphis state Sen. Kyle applies for Probate Court judgeship (CA/Locker)

State Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis filed an application Friday to fill the Probate Court vacancy created by the upcoming retirement of Judge Robert Benham. If he wins the interim appointment by the Shelby County Commission, Kyle said he would resign from the state Senate seat he has held since 1983. “This is an unexpected opportunity and I feel this is a job I can do and do well and continue my service to the community,” he said. “I believe that if I become judge I can no longer serve in the legislature but I would leave anyway because I can’t be a judge and be in Nashville.”

Kyle, Leader of State Senate Democrats, Files for Probate Vacancy (M. Flyer)

Jim Kyle, the veteran Democratic state Senator from Memphis who for years was a handful of votes away from being Speaker of the Senate and Lt. Governor of Tennessee, is making his second effort within the last two years to stake a claim to public service outside the legislature. Kyle, who in 2011 narrowly lost a bid for a provisional post on the Shelby County Unified School Board when a Democratic member of the County Commission defected to vote for Republican candidate, has filed an application with the Commission for the Probate Court Judgeship which Judge Robert Benham is vacating.

Judicial Redistricting Plan Leaves Shelby Same (Memphis Daily News)

About a year after the Tennessee legislature set new district lines for itself and the state’s nine members of Congress, it is about to set the district lines for civil and criminal trial court judges at the state level. Tennessee Lt. Gov. and state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey unveiled a “consensus” judicial redistricting proposal Monday, March 11, in Nashville that leaves Shelby County as its own judicial district. The only change to Shelby County’s 30th Judicial District is it would become the 29th Judicial District.

Jetport shortfall?: Authority moves to collect pledged money (TFP/Leach)

After opening the Cleveland Regional Jetport less than two months ago, airport authority officials are hoping to get the facility’s operating budget off the ground. On Friday, the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority mapped plans to address a possible budget shortfall of $141,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The authority’s budget projects $390,000 in revenues for the airport but $531,000 in expenses. Officials agreed to work on collecting $300,000 in donations from businesses and individuals for the jetport.

TVA to upgrade Gallatin site (Tennessean/Gang)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has received final approval to begin constructing $1 billion worth of new pollution controls at its coal-fired Gallatin power plant. At the same time, TVA has agreed to provide the land and as much as $700,000 to build a new Cumberland River Aquatic Center. The center, run by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, raises endangered freshwater mussels and is located on power plant property — right where TVA plans to install massive equipment for the pollution controls.TVA will move the aquatic center to the opposite side of the power plant’s discharge channel from its current location, TVA Senior Vice President Joe Hoagland said Friday.

Y-12 protesters trial reassigned to Kentucky judge (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The trial of three Y-12 protesters has been reassigned to a federal judge in Kentucky, apparently because of the impending retirement of U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips. Phillips was to preside at the trial, scheduled to begin May 7, but a court document filed Friday indicated the case has been reassigned to Judge Amul R. Thapar, a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The case reassignment was among several court documents, but there was no indication of where the trial of Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli will be held or whether the current trial date will be moved.

Wacker set to spend $2 billion on East Tennessee solar plant (Nash Biz Journal)

Hemlock Semiconductor might have shut its doors in Clarksville, but Wacker Chemie is upping the ante in Bradley County. County officials said the solar powerhouse plans to boost its investment in its plant under construction in East Tennessee to $2 billion, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The German polysilicon maker is spending an additional $200 million on the plant, up from $1.8 billion. The company expects to increase its production capacity by at least 10 percent.

County Commission Ponders Larger School Board (Memphis Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners are about to consider another change to the terms of the ongoing reformation of public education in Shelby County. At Wednesday, March 13, committee sessions, a new ad hoc committee will discuss possibly changing the size of the countywide school board effective Sept. 1. The 23-member school board that now includes all nine members of the old Memphis City Schools board and all seven members of the old Shelby County Schools board is to pare down to a seven-member board Sept. 1 as it loses the 16 members of the two former boards.

TECH UPGRADES: Challenge for Hamilton County teachers (TFP/Hardy)

Hamilton County school board members saw a glimpse at the future of schools Friday with a visit to the county’s new STEM school — a program that will be key when it comes time to train thousands of other teachers on incorporating new technology into their classrooms. The STEM school — science, technology, engineering and math — issued iPads to all of its students in its inaugural semester this fall. And Friday, the board’s technology committee explored lessons already learned there as it deliberates how to bring iPads or other devices to all 42,000 students across the county.

Rhea schools eye ‘safe touch’ program (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Davis)

County school board members are considering stepping into the fight against child abuse by allowing a “safe touch” program in elementary schools. County domestic violence investigator Rocky Potter told board members Thursday that he already has investigated 27 cases of child abuse this year, and the problem is growing. The program he recommended, presented by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Chattanooga, offers age-appropriate information to help children differentiate between a “good touch,” such as a loving hug, and a “bad touch” that should be reported to a trusted adult, he said.

In Memphis, proven teachers have world on string (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

Teacher recruitment is as bruising as a contact sport for leaders in a mushrooming array of public schools here searching for proven staff. “Everybody we make an offer to has two or three other offers from somewhere else. If we find a really great elementary teacher, Cornerstone, Gestalt or somebody else has already found them,” said Ash Solar, chief talent officer in the Achievement School District. Solar needs to hire about 80 teachers this spring for five schools the ASD will be running in Frayser.

Maryland: Repeal of Death Penalty Awaits Governor’s Signature (New York Times)

Maryland is likely to become the 18th state to outlaw executions after lawmakers approved a measure abolishing the death penalty. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who has long pushed for the change, is expected to sign the bill when the legislative session ends in April. The House of Delegates passed the bill 82 to 56 on Friday, 10 days after the Senate approved it. The legislation would replace death sentences with life terms without the possibility of parole. It would not apply to the five inmates on death row in the state.

 

OPINION

Guest columnist: Medicaid expansion will be worth cost to TN (Tennessean)

As Tennessee lawmakers continue to ponder whether we should expand Medicaid to cover as many as 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans, maybe the real question is about the cost to Tennessee if we decide not to expand the program. Not long ago, Tennessee ranked 48th among the states for health outcomes, and we learned how our tobacco use, dietary choices and physical inactivity were largely to blame for reversing past gains in life expectancy. We learned our children may be the first generation in history to have shorter lives than their parents. In addition, employers began to examine their health care costs and the productivity losses associated with employees suffering from an array of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Editorial: Goodbye to nannies for TennCare kids (Paris Post-Intelligencer)

Let’s hear it for the TennCare program. Tennessee’s version of Medicaid has made so much progress in responsible treatment of poor and disabled children that it no longer needs a federal nanny’s supervision. That was the decision of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday, ending 15 years of court-ordered oversight of how well the program treats kids. Since legal advocates filed suit in 1998, TennCare had been required to have independent monitors make sure children got the treatment they deserved. The original case involved a severely disabled 10-year-old boy, identified only as “John B.,” whose parents struggled with the agency for two years to get a replacement for a dangerously unstable wheelchair.

Free-Press Editorial: Citizen uncovers EPB’s porn problem (Times Free-Press)

Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information laws, comes to a close today. This week, the Free Press opinion page has highlighted a number of editorials that feature information culled from requests for government documents and featured discussions about the value of government transparency. While the media owes it to citizens to utilize and defend open records and open meetings laws, ultimately it is you, the citizen, who is best situated to use freedom of information and sunshine laws to hold government accountable. One local citizen activist who has used open records in an especially effective way is David Tulis, whose website Nooganomics. com takes a Chattanooga-centric look at free-market economics and Christianity.

Editorial: Let Aitken know where he stands (Commercial Appeal)

Is Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken really giving up on becoming head of the merged city-county school district, or is he making a deft move aimed at getting a better read on what his chances are of taking the helm? Aitken is expected to ask the Shelby County unified school board Tuesday to buy out his contract, allowing him to leave a job requiring him to help plan and execute the merger of the two school districts by the time Memphis City Schools goes out of business on July 1. The school board is conducting a national search for a new superintendent. Classes for the merged district are scheduled to start Aug. 5.

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