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April 9 TN News Digest

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

 

Haslam Will Sign Ban on Local Wage-and-Benefits Mandates (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he plans to put his signature on the “Tennessee Wage Protection Act,” a piece of legislation that would stop municipalities from setting their own minimum and prevailing wage requirements on businesses. The issue posed a bit of an ideological conundrum for the Republican governor by forcing him to choose between preserving local control and pushing a business-friendly agenda. Haslam said trying to maintaining a consistent, hospitable business climate across Tennessee took precedence in this instance.  

Clergy to Legislature: WWJD on Medicaid Expansion? (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Would Jesus expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program? That’s the question a left-leaning clergy group is asking the General Assembly, and they believe the answer is yes.cPastors and priests delivered baskets of bread loaves and (paper) fish to each legislator on Monday. The attempted biblical parallel is to the miracle of feeding the 5,000.cThe federal money to expand Medicaid would be akin to the original five loaves and two fish. Lawmakers would play the apostles, who distributed the food that fed everyone and then some… Governor Bill Haslam hasn’t exactly said no, or yes, to the expansion. And he says he happens to agree with the clergy.  

Clergy carrying symbolic loaves and fishes urge Medicaid expansion in TN (Tenn)

A group of 15 faith leaders from across the state delivered 133 baskets of loaves and fish and a letter Monday calling on Tennessee officials to not abandon Medicaid expansion if the state’s alternative expansion plan is not approved by the federal government.cThe letter, which was signed by nearly 100 clergy and faith leaders, called Medicaid expansion “not only the right thing to do, it’s the moral and faithful thing to do.” The loaves and fish represent Jesus’ miracle where he fed thousands with just two fish and five loaves of bread, and local clergy say it’s symbolic of the state providing health insurance to thousands of residents in need.

State taking proposals for specialty crop grants (Associated Press)

Agriculture officials say the state is accepting proposals for federal funds aimed at increasing production of specialty crops. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture says the funds from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program can be used to grow and produce fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops, including floriculture. Universities, cooperatives, food producers, for-profit industries or community-based organizations may submit proposals for project funding. They will be eligible for about $480,000 to support grower education, infrastructure, food safety and marketing.

Inspector says bridge not rated for bus traffic (Johnson City Press)

Two buses from the Carter County School System are taking different routes and avoiding Smalling Bridge after the Highway Committee of the Carter County Commission heard warnings from the regional bridge inspector for the Tennessee Department of Transportation on Monday. The bridge crosses the Watauga River and serves the western end of the county. Adam Wallend, the department’s bridge inspector for Carter, Washington, Unicoi, Sullivan and Johnson counties, said the 71-year-old Smalling Bridge is rated for 9 tons.

UT Sex Week commences (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Sorry, the golden condom already has been claimed It took about five hours for a lucky winner to track down the golden condom on the University of Tennessee’s campus — far less than the intended five days. It was found behind the clock tower near the Pedestrian Mall. But there will be plenty more events to come — drag shows, trivia, workshops and other sex-tinged presentations — through Friday as part of the school’s inaugural and controversial Sex Week. “The students have always been really supportive, and we have not had any pushback this week,” said Brianna Rader, co-founder of the event that received national headlines with salaciously themed programming, which provoked local lawmakers.  

AG’s office returns alcohol permit taken from Klub Cirok (City Paper/Greenberg)

The Tennessee Attorney General’s office returned an alcohol permit to the Murfreesboro Pike nightclub Klub Cirok on Monday, following a lawsuit that was filed two weeks ago. The ex-wife of a now-deceased former owner of the club ripped the permit off the wall last month. The woman turned the permit over to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission — but the commission placed the matter “under investigation” and didn’t give the permit back, according to a lawsuit filed by Klub Cirok.

Few non-citizens voted in Davidson County, state review finds (Tennessean/Cass)

An outgoing Davidson County election commissioner’s estimate of the number of non-citizens registering to vote may have been a little off the mark. State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins’ office said Monday that a review of voter registration lists and the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s database found just 14 “potential non-citizens” on Davidson County’s voter rolls. Just one of those 14 people had ever voted, and that was sometime before 2012, said Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the Tennessee Division of Elections.

Tax decrease on groceries gets unanimous vote (Memphis Business Journal)

The Tennessee House unanimously approved a proposal to cut the state’s sales tax on groceries. The proposal was put forward by Gov. Bill Haslam, according to the Associated Press. If approved by the Senate, Tennessee’s sales tax on groceries will decrease from 7 percent to 5 percent. The decrease is expected to cost state coffers about $23 million.  

House votes to place income tax ban before voters (Associated Press)

The House gave final approval Monday to a proposed constitutional amendment to ban a state income tax in Tennessee, which means the measure will go before the voters next year. The chamber voted 88-8 in favor of the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin.. Casada said he already believes an income tax is banned under the state constitution, but the amendment will give voters a voice on “clarifying and making it even more clear that the income tax is unconstitutional.”

Tennessee House votes to place income tax ban before voters (TFP/Sher)

Tennesseans in 2014 will decide whether to ban a state income tax after the House gave final approval to a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution prohibiting the levy. The chamber on Monday voted 88-8 for the resolution, sponsored by Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin. Tennessee has no general state income tax. But proponents note two previous governors — one a Republican and the other a Democrat — have pushed for such a levy in the past. 

Legislators approve vote on tax ban (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Tennesseans will vote in 2014 whether to amend the state constitution to explicitly ban a state or local tax on earned income. The House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Monday night to the constitutional amendment resolution, sending it to the November 2014 general election ballot for ratification or rejection by voters. The amendment would prohibit the state legislature from authorizing any new state or local tax on earned personal income or payrolls, an issue last fought in Tennessee in 2002 when attempts to enact a state income tax failed after a noisy three-year battle.

Tennessee utility regulation bill headed to Gov. Bill Haslam (TFP/Sher)

A Haslam administration initiative that could result in annual rate increases for local customers of for-profit utilities like Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas is on its way to the governor. Senators gave final approval to the bill Monday on a 29-1 vote. The House passed the bill last month. Meanwhile, the House voted to let Tennesseans decide in 2014 whether to ban a state income tax after members gave final approval to a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution prohibiting the levy.

House ends teacher career ladder (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Thirty years ago, the Tennessee legislature enacted a merit-pay program for teachers and other educators after a year-long battle between then-governor Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee Education Association ended in a negotiated compromise that created the Tennessee Career Ladder program with pay supplements for teachers. On Monday night, the House of Representatives approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill that repeals the Career Ladder program but allows the salary supplements to continue for the remaining educators who are still receiving it.

Senate defeats dog-fighting bill (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Legislation that would strengthen penalties for cock and dog fighting in Tennessee failed in the Senate Monday night, falling two votes short of the 17 required for passage in the 33-member chamber. The bill was backed by the Humane Society of the United States, but its opponents, including Sen. Frank Niceley, argued that it would hurt farmers by banning the raising of animals that are bred to fight. Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, also told his colleagues during a brief floor debate that the “HSUS spent $50,000 trying to defeat me in the last election.”

Power Play to Lower Pro Athlete Tax Bills in Tennessee (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Hockey players from all corners of the NHL have been hit by Tennessee’s so-called “jock tax,” one of the highest in the country. It effectively costs them $7,500 a year to take the ice in the state. But a power play is in the works to ban the state from the back pockets of professional athletes. “It’s unfair,” Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) says of the privilege tax, which also includes NBA players. “It’s very narrow and targeted, and we just shouldn’t be doing that in the tax code.” Johnson, who says he has constituents who play for the Nashville Predators, has sponsored a bill to repeal the tax on athletes.

Choices help Memphis smokers, non-smokers adapt (Commercial Appeal/Loller)

It was trivia night at Celtic Crossing in the Cooper-Young entertainment district. The bar and restaurant were packed, and owner D. J. Naylor was catering to smokers and non-smokers alike. When Tennessee law banned smoking in most enclosed public spaces in 2007, Naylor opted for an exception that allowed smoking in bars and restaurants that limit customers to age 21 and older. But Naylor wanted to make nonsmokers comfortable too. His solution was to ban smoking until 2 p.m. “That’s so that (lunch) customers can go back to work without smelling like smoke.” He also added a nonsmoking room to avoid direct contact with smoke.  

Union groups fight TN workers’ comp overhaul (Tennessean/Rau)

Union groups on Monday blasted Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to create a new workers’ compensation office and place it under the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The Haslam administration is pushing legislation to overhaul worker’s comp and effectively create a new division of state government, which would share administrative services with the Department of Labor. Critics say the proposal comes at a bad time, because the labor department is already struggling to carry out one of its core functions — distributing unemployment benefits.  

Democratic Party Chairman Herron criticizes welfare penalty bill (Tennessean/Sisk)

The head of the Tennessee Democratic Party blasted a proposal to tie families’ welfare payments to their children’s performance in school, saying it will result in child abuse. Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Roy Herron called a press conference in Legislative Plaza to ask Republican members to vote against House Bill 261, a measure that would reduce welfare payments if a child fails a grade unless a parent takes corrective action. Lower payments would give parents an incentive to intervene in their children’s education, proponents say.  

Herron slams welfare-schools bill (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

The head of the state Democratic Party on Monday attacked a Republican lawmaker’s bill that seeks to cut cash benefits for parents on welfare whose children don’t attend or do poorly in school. Chairman Roy Herron said the bill, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, would be named “Starve the Children” and denounced the measure as “perhaps the worst bill yet from the radical Republicans.” Quoting from the New Testament’s Book of Matthew, Herron told reporters that “Jesus taught that we are to feed the hungry, reminding us that, ‘Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these … you did for me.'”

Tennesseans remember Holocaust (Tennessean/Wilson)

With the lighting of six candles at the State Capitol, dozens of people pledged not to forget those who died during the horrors of the Holocaust — one million for each candle in the room. The ceremony was part of a larger Day of Remembrance sponsored by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission at the State Capitol on Monday. It attracted a handful of Holocaust survivors and their relatives. Participants recited traditional Jewish prayers and sang a series of songs in honor of the millions who died and countless others affected by the Holocaust.

Kelsey: State Confirms Six-Year Auto Inspection Timeframe (Memphis Daily News)

Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown says he is confident Shelby County vehicle owners outside Memphis won’t have to go through auto inspections for another six years. “I received a hard and fast commitment from the commissioner that this will not happen for six years and I believe him,” Kelsey said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” referring to talks he has had with Tennessee Commissioner of Environment and Conservation Robert J. Martineau Jr. Kelsey commented after Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell each said state officials never told them anything about six more years of such inspections and had only talked about two more years before the state would take over the emissions inspections.

Campfield defiant in deposition about posting false information (Associated Press)

State Sen. Stacey Campfield has given a deposition in which he is unapologetic for posting false information about a Democratic candidate on his blog, dismissive of the possibility of paying damages for that and belittling of the technological skills of fellow lawmakers. Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, is the defendant in a $750,000 libel lawsuit brought by Roger Byrge for falsely stating on his blog in the weeks before the 2008 general election that the Democrat had a criminal record. Byrge lost the state House race to Republican Chad Faulkner by fewer than 400 votes, 8,321 to 7,930.

Kincannon suggests adding three Gifted & Talented coaches to budget (NS/McCoy)

Knox County school board member Indya Kincannon suggested Monday night that somewhere within the 2013-14 budget proposal that $175,000 be used to hire three Gifted and Talented program coaches. “I think this budget is the board’s statement about our values and priorities to the extent that we can reflect those within our limited resources,” she said. “What I don’t see in this budget that I would like to offer to you guys is some symbolic investment in our high achieving gifted and talented kids.”

Even pro-gun states balk at arming teachers (Associated Press/Lieb)

When a gunman killed 26 children and staff at a Connecticut grade school, Missouri Rep. Mike Kelley quickly proposed legislation that would allow trained teachers to carry hidden guns into the classroom as a “line of defense” against attackers. Similar bills soon proliferated in Republican-led states as the National Rifle Association called for armed officers in every American school. Yet less than four months later, the quest to put guns in schools has stalled in many traditionally gun-friendly states after encountering opposition from educators, reluctance from some governors and ambivalence from legislative leaders more focused on economic initiatives.

New distribution facility could come to Whitehaven (Memphis Business Journal)

Old Dominion Freight Lines Inc. is targeting Whitehaven for a new distribution operation. The Thomasville, N.C.-based less-than-truckload carrier, working with Nashville-based design-build firm D.F. Chase Inc., is considering a 59.1-acre site at Interstate 55 and Kilarney for the new facility. Site plans show a trucking terminal, office, fuel center, and trailer parking. The project developers have a contract on the land, but it is contingent on zoning.

Hemlock to take over debt on land deal with Montgomery County (Leaf Chronicle)

At year’s end, Hemlock Semiconductor will take over the debt payments on the $20 million the county borrowed to buy land where the company has built its $1.2 billion plant. The news came from James Chavez, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Council, Monday night when he gave the Montgomey County Commission a status report on Hemlock, which has essentially shuttered the Clarksville plant and laid off its employees before opening because of economic conditions.

Former mayor, several others seek to open charters in Memphis (CA/Roberts)

More than 20 groups have applied to run charter schools here in 2014, including former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who sees Memphis as the nucleus of a push for a national charter network. He is seeking approval for 10 schools on top of the nine he is approved to open this fall. “Of course, we will have to undergo a rigorous review with all the other applications that have been submitted,” Herenton said Monday. “What I am launching in Memphis with the DuBois charter management organization is probably the most ambitious launching of charter schools that we’ve seen. It could be the largest in the nation.”  

White : Early BEP estimate is ‘promising’ for public schools (Jackson Sun)

Jackson-Madison County Schools Superintendent Buddy White said early estimates of BEP, or Basic Education Program, funding from the state is $1.2 million more than last year. “This is an estimate given to us for budget planning purposes,” White explained during the school board’s work session held Monday evening. “But it does look promising.” The district received $43,689,000 for the 2012-13 school year. The state estimates the district will receive $44,905,000 in the 2013-14 school year. White explained that part of the funding formula is connected to student enrollment figures.

Louisiana: A Governor Retrenches on a Big Idea (New York Times)

In a short address Monday on the first day of the legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal described why his next big plan — a plan that had been applauded by conservative pundits nationally, pitched at meetings around the state and promoted in slickly produced commercials — was crucial to Louisiana’s success. Then he announced he was shelving it. “Governor, you’re moving too fast, and we aren’t sure that your plan is the best way to do it,” Mr. Jindal said, describing what he had heard from legislators and citizens alike.

Massachusetts: Health Care Pioneer Seeks to Tame Costs (Stateline)

As other states continue to debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act or race to implement it, Massachusetts is moving on to the next big challenge: curbing health care costs. Under a law signed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick last August, Massachusetts is putting its health care industry on an annual budget and requiring all of the state’s insurers and medical providers to make public the prices of the services they offer. Beginning on Oct. 1, consumers will be able to view price comparisons online.  

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Conversion of UT power plant to gas wise use of funds (News-Sentinel)

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to spend $24 million to convert the University of Tennessee coal-fired power plant to use natural gas. The transition, which would dramatically reduce harmful emissions from the plant, is part of Haslam’s $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative.” Some legislators voiced skepticism in a House Finance Committee hearing last week about the initiative, questioning Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner and Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. Questions about the amount of money to be spent on anti-obesity and anti-smoking efforts in the initiative are understandable — those programs are essentially marketing strategies.

Editorial: When it comes to taxes, every cut counts in Tennessee

Lest we think members of the Tennessee General Assembly spend all their time writing and debating legislation that makes little sense, debating wedge issues or schmoozing lobbyists and political partisans, here is a list of real-world tax cuts being considered. Our thanks to Jackson Rep. Jimmy Eldridge for his update on these bills. House Bill 193 — Cuts the sales tax on food from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, saving consumers across the state approximately $25 million. House Bill 1184 — Institutes a sales tax holiday for small businesses.

 

Clay Bennett Political Cartoon: “The Record Pace” (Times Free-Press) 

 

Editorial: An unfair burden on teachers (Commercial Appeal)

It has been known for decades that teachers spend their own money to buy basic school supplies and classroom paraphernalia needed to help students learn. Unfortunately, it is expected in many circles. But that does not make it right. A story by education writer Jane Roberts on the front page of The Commercial Appeal on Sunday reported on an online survey of 1,000 Tennessee teachers, in which 36 percent said they spend between $251 and $500 on classroom supplies. That includes spending on work sheets, handouts and other materials they need to teach a class. That percentage jumped to 42 percent among prekindergarten to second-grade teachers.

Editorial: The 14th Amendment deserves protection (Daily News Journal)

We are disappointed at the stance taken by Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, in regard to immigration reform. In a time when the GOP is trying to improve its image among the Hispanic population in the United States, Black has joined 23 co-sponsors in signing on to the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2013. It would seem that while Black walks the talk about protecting the Second Amendment of the Constitution protecting gun ownership, she is not so big on the rights many believe are provided by the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment is widely regarded as guaranteeing birthright citizenship, reading: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

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