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April 17 TN News Digest

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

 

TDOT, Haslam release transportation improvement plan (Tennessean/Young)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation and Gov. Bill Haslam released a three-year transportation plan Tuesday that features about $1.5 billion in infrastructure investments for 80 individual projects and 15 statewide programs. Highlights from the program include several improvements to the interstate system such as truck climbing lanes, interchange projects, the addition of cameras and message signs on I-24 over Monteagle Mountain and on I-65 north and south of Nashville, and a new interchange on I-65 at Highway 109 on the Robertson County-Sumner County line.  

Haslam Continues Talks on Medicaid Expansion (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been talking with President Barack Obama’s administration since his decision last month not to accept federal funding for an expansion of the state’s Medicaid funding at least for now. Haslam was in Washington last week to talk with federal health officials about a possible compromise, he said during a weekend visit to Memphis. “I would describe it as we have a difficult path to get where we need to,” Haslam said. “But if we can get done what we want to, it will be worth it for everybody.”

Haslam Signs Bills Aimed at Protecting Students’ Health (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed two bills that seek to protect the health of high school and college students. One measure will require schools and other organizations with youth athletic programs to adopt concussion policies. It was overwhelmingly approved 93-3 in the House and the Senate unanimously passed it 30-0. The other legislation will require incoming students at public higher education institutions to show proof they have gotten a meningitis shot.

Windham Professionals adding 150 Alcoa jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

Call center operator Windham Professionals announced Tuesday it was bringing 150 new jobs to its Alcoa location. Windham, which currently has 50 workers in Alcoa, also plans to add 95 positions at a similar operation in Hendersonville, Tenn. “When Windham Professionals set up operations here around two years ago, we knew this was a good fit for Alcoa, and they have been a leader in the community,” Alcoa Mayor Don Mull said in a statement. “These high quality well-paying jobs are what drives our local economy and makes this a great place to work and live.”

Windham Professionals expanding in Hendersonville, Alcoa (Nashville Biz Journal)

Windham Professionals is adding 245 new jobs in Tennessee, the company and state economic development officials announced today. Windham, headquartered in Salem, N.H., is a collections agency. According to a news release, Windham is adding 95 positions at its Hendersonville office, which serves as a regional headquarters, and 150 positions in Alcoa. The expansion represents an investment of $500,000. “All of us at Windham Professionals are excited to be a part of both the business communities in Hendersonville and Alcoa,” Erin Zaldastani, president and CEO of Windham Professionals, said in the release.

The List: Tennessee a top choice for foreign investment (News-Sentinel/Kimel)

Volkswagen is one of the most recent foreign companies to locate in East Tennessee, and impacts from its auto manufacturing facility near Chattanooga are still being felt as suppliers also locate here to support the plant. German company HP Pelzer Automotive, one of those suppliers, announced plans this week to open a $28 million facility in Athens, Tenn. Including these and other investments, German firms have invested more than $3 billion dollars in Tennessee. More than 12,000 people are employed by the 100-plus German firms in the state, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Education roundtable emphasizes teacher training, data (Tennessean/Fingeroot)

The importance of good teachers and good data dominated the conversation at a roundtable discussion on education Tuesday at the John Seigenthaler Center. A diverse panel of 12 Middle Tennesseans talked their way toward a consensus that teacher training is crucial and good data important in making quick assessments of student needs. About 50 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE. Jesse Register, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, set the tone when he said investing in professional development for teachers and administrators is the key to success.

TN school standards plan draws fire (Tennessean/Hall)

Tennessee’s plan to make its high school graduates competitive after years of lagging performance is drawing fire from conservative groups that say it just won’t work. They want Tennessee to drop its 2010 commitment to the Common Core State Standards — adopted here and in 44 other states — and write its own. They’re accusing the Obama administration of dangling billions in Race to the Top funds to get states to sign on in an attempt to centralize education in the hands of the federal government. State education leaders reject those notions, saying Tennessee was looking at ways to improve years before it won a $500 million Race to the Top grant.

New Highway 27 plan similar to proposal rejected last year (TFP/Bradbury)

Two years ago, Chattanooga dentist Charles Holt Jr. was making plans to move out of his downtown office so TDOT could put an exit ramp right through his building. Then he went on a two-week vacation to Italy and when he came back, the plan to rework the downtown section of Highway 27 had been delayed. Again. “I used to get excited when they said they’d do something,” he said from his practice at 1301 Carter St. “It was supposed to happen in 2010 and didn’t. It was supposed to happen in 2011 and didn’t. Last year I rested pretty easy. And this year I’m still waiting.”

R. Brad Martin named as interim president at University of Memphis (MBJ)

A day after Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis, announced her plan to retire June 30, the Tennessee Board of Regents has named R. Brad Martin interim president, effective July 1. Martin, a member of the university’s board of visitors and the retired chairman and CEO of Saks Inc. (NYSE: SKS), will begin working with Raines April 25 to prepare for his role. The university will begin a search for a permanent president this summer, and plans to have one in place by July 2014. In an April 3 press release, Dillard’s Inc. said that Martin was leaving its board of directors in May saying that Martin has,“accepted a leadership position which will require a significant time commitment.”

Brad Martin ready to assume reins at U of M (Commercial Appeal/Kelley)

Can a businessman, however successful, ever be a good fit for the president’s office at a university? That question came up Tuesday during Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan’s appearance before faculty members and students at the University of Memphis. It was in reference to Brad Martin, the retired chairman and CEO of Saks, Inc. He was appointed by Morgan Tuesday to lead the university on a temporary basis after the retirement of Shirley Raines becomes official June 30. Morgan was ready with an answer.

Doctor disciplined after shoplifting, carrying drugs (Tennessean/Wilemon)

A Nashville doctor caught with narcotics during a shoplifting arrest at Cool Springs Galleria has been reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. Dr. Anjalie Narasimhan is one of four doctors from Nashville, Lebanon and Brentwood recently disciplined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. The action against Narasimhan comes more than a year after she pleaded guilty to theft under $500. Her arrest occurred on Dec. 17, 2011, when she was caught stealing merchandise, according to the consent order.  

Pressure cookers used for Boston Marathon bombs (USA Today)

The bombs that killed three people and injured scores at the Boston Marathon finish line were made from pressure cookers filled with metal and ball bearings and left in a backpack, according to a federal law enforcement official. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told USA Today that investigators sifting through evidence at the scene found fabric fragments consistent with a black backpack, the official in Boston said. The person said law enforcement officials have some of the bomb components but do not yet know what was used to set off the explosives.  

Nashville marathon officials plan safety review following Boston bombings (NBJ)

Organizers of the April 27 St. Jude Country Music Marathon will take a second look at security plans following Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, WSMV Ch. 4 reports. WSMV reports that the FBI will share information as needed with Nashville marathon officials. In a statement Monday, Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said, “The Nashville Police Department is now and has been in the security planning process for the April 27th Country Music Marathon. Today’s explosions in Boston will factor into that planning as we meet in the coming days with marathon organizers.

Police team up for safety of Country Music Marathon (TN/Tamburin, Bliss)

While the bombings at the Boston Marathon are casting a shadow over Nashville’s upcoming race, Police Chief Steve Anderson said Tuesday that his department would strive to make it “the event that Nashville deserves.” Flanked by officials from several federal agencies including the FBI, Anderson told the media there was no known threat facing the St. Jude’s Country Music Marathon on April 27. “The event in Boston is making us more aware, but this is business as usual. This is what we do every day,” the chief said.

Country Music Marathon among those quickly reviewing security (AP)

A marathon course runs 26.2 miles along an open road. Much tougher to secure than an arena with doors and walls. Yet across the U.S. and around the world, from West Bend, Wis., and London this weekend, to Nashville, Tenn., next week and Copenhagen next month, organizers of road races are trying to figure out how to improve security after the Boston Marathon bombings.  

Metro reviewing security for Country Music Marathon (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Authorities from Metro police, FBI, ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s office held a meeting for media availability on Tuesday to discuss their plans for increased security for the upcoming Country Music Marathon. Metro police chief Steve Anderson said there had been questions about security for runners, their friends, marathon workers and Nashvillians who line the streets cheering for the participants in light of Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. “I want to make it very clear, we are committed to the safety and enjoyment of this event” said Anderson.

Chattanooga officials: Security on track for championship cycling race (TFP/Jett)

For more than half a year, local authorities have planned how to handle next month’s national championship cycling race. After the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday, Chattanooga police say nothing has changed their approach. “We already plan for just about every type of scenario you can imagine,” said Sgt. Austin Garrett, supervisor of the department’s special events unit, which works about 120 affairs each year.

Nashville man survives Boston Marathon explosion (Tennessean/Bliss)

Phil Kirkpatrick stood at the Boston Marathon finish line Monday wearing a Tennessee Volunteers T-shirt and watching for his girlfriend “when all of a sudden there was a huge white fireball at my feet and the loudest noise I have ever heard in my life.” There was an instant smell of sulfuric acid, the Nashville resident recalled Tuesday during an appearance on Katie Couric’s daytime talk show, and pressure from the blow left him on all fours on the sidewalk crawling among the flailing bodies.  

Local father watches Boston tragedy unfold (Johnson City Press)

When Richard Wesley Pectol Sr. watched the footage of the bombings at the Boston Marathon Monday, there were a few context clues that relaxed and reassured him that his son, one of the local runners in the race, was OK. As the videos of the blasts were being broadcast, Pectol said the timer shown at the finish line, reading somewhere around 4:10, was one indication his son, Richard Wesley “Wes” Pectol Jr., known to be a fast finisher at marathons, was nowhere near the danger zone. 

BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING: Locals resolve to compete, not run in terror (DNJ)

Murfreesboro resident Gail Vella has run the Boston Marathon twice, and her friends saw the carnage of Monday’s bombing firsthand. “They said the bombs were like cannons exploding,” Vella said. So in the aftermath of the Boston bombing – which killed three and injured more than 180 others Monday – how will Vella handle running in next week’s St. Jude Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon through downtown Nashville? “It won’t affect me. Not in the least. It won’t stop me for a minute,” said Vella, a 55-year-old avid runner.

West TN runners recall bomb blasts at Boston Marathon (Jackson Sun)

Drs. Joe Peters of Michie and Jim Gardner of Henderson said that before the Boston Marathon began Monday, runners were in good moods, everyone was excited and the weather was beautiful. They both ran and finished the race as normal. After Peters — a family practice physician — completed the marathon, he began to gather his personal belongings at the buses where they were kept. “I was about three blocks from the finish line. I got really cold, so I sat on the ground to put on my warm-up suit and I started talking to my wife on the cell phone,” Peters said.

Tennessee virtual school cap passes; charter schools delayed (Associated Press)

The Tennessee House has approved a proposal that caps enrollment in virtual schools. The House voted 66-29 Tuesday to pass the administration bill that allows beginning online schools an enrollment of 1,500 with the ability to expand as long as they meet performance requirements. If they fail to do so for three consecutive years, then the state education commissioner could chose to cap enrollment or direct the local school board to close the school. The bill passed the Senate last month and now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

Contentious Charter School Issues Unresolved as Session Draws to Close (TNR)

Many among the Tennessee Legislature’s Republican supermajority believe the more charter schools, the better — particularly in areas served by poorly performing traditional public schools. But things are not going smoothly in the waning days of the legislative session for a GOP-backed effort to circumvent local school boards resistant to that vision. Legislation has been proposed to create a state-appointed board with the power to overrule local education agencies that deny new charter schools.

Charter school authorizer bill in jeopardy of stalling in Senate (Tenn/Garrison)

A controversial bill creating a new state panel that could approve charter schools faced a sharp round of questioning in a Senate committee Tuesday, a sign of resistance that could derail the legislation altogether. Multiple senators seemed perplexed Tuesday over the need to create a state bureaucracy with a $239,000 price-tag to hear appeals from charter applicants in just five Tennessee counties. Clearly lacking support in the 11-member Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R- Somerville, the bill’s sponsor, was able to push Senate Bill 830 to the the heel of its calendar in an effort to save the fight for another day.

Senate Panel OKs School Security Bill (Associated Press)

A proposal that would allow school districts to hire individuals with prior law enforcement experience to handle security is headed for a full Senate vote. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains passed the Senate Finance Committee 6-2 on Monday. The companion bill is set to be heard on the House floor on Tuesday. The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course. Police officers are typically required to have about 400 hours of training.

Opponents say retired officers may be too old to carry guns in schools (WPLN)

Democrats are still coming up with new ways to slow down a move in the state legislature to arm some teachers. They say former law enforcement officers may be too old to safely carry guns in class. There are about a hundred teachers in Tennessee public schools who might qualify. A few are still in their 40s, though most are much older. So age concerns have been raised. “I’m concerned that when someone is older and may not have had that psychological testing done in 20 or 30 years, how they would react to a circumstance that would not justify use of a firearm,” Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville) said on the floor of the House, shortly before a vote to approve the bill.

Tennessee State Senate passes ‘Ag Gag’ bill (Times Free-Press/Sher)

People who shoot video or take photographs of animal cruelty will have to submit the material to law enforcement within 48 hours or face being charged with a crime under a bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The House is expected to take up the bill on the floor today after efforts by opponents to re-refer the bill to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee failed in the Calendar and Rules Committee on a 7-12 vote. Similar efforts are being made in other states. Proponents say the bill is aimed at protecting animals.

Senate approves quick turnover of photos, video of animal abuse (TN/Sisk)

The Tennessee Senate approved a bill that would make it a crime not to turn over photographic evidence of animal abuse within 48 hours, a measure that could crack down on the use of hidden cameras to document mistreatment Senators voted 22-9 to pass Senate Bill 1248, which makes not giving police photographs or video of animal abuse a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine. The bill comes after the Humane Society of the United States secretly videotaped trainer Jackie McConnell “soring” the feet of Tennessee Walking Horses in 2011.

Senate OKs bill that requires reporting of filmed animal abuse (N-S/Humphrey)

The Senate on Tuesday approved, 22-9, legislation that requires anyone filming livestock abuse to turn over all “unedited photographs, digital images or video” to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours. Proponents say the bill (SB1248) is aimed at stopping animal abuse promptly. Critics said it actually protects animal abusers by targeting only those make photographs or video. The measure is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday.

Proper handling or animal abuse? Bill may protect from false claims (WPLN)

The Tennessee Senate has approved requiring video of livestock abuse to be turned over to police within 48 hours. The measure is intended to stop animal rights groups from doing long-term undercover investigations, like the one that led to the conviction of a Tennessee walking horse trainer. Instead of party lines, it’s largely an urban/rural divide separating lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Memphis tried to slow down the proposal by requiring anyone who witnessed animal cruelty to go to law enforcement. 

Tennessee House Passes Watered Down Switchblade Bill (Associated Press)

The state House has passed a watered down version of a bill that originally would have lifted a ban on switchblades and knives with blades longer than 4 inches. As amended under a bill passed 77-18 on Tuesday, the measure does away with those two provisions, but it still removes the power of local governments to make their own knife regulations. Currently, local governments can pass their own ordinances restricting knives, although the maximum penalty they can impose is a fine of up to $50.

Instead of repealing Tennessee knife laws, legislators accept state standard (WPLN)

A proposal that would eliminate almost all of the state’s laws about carrying a knife was ultimately watered down in response to push back from the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association. Instead of dropping the state’s ban on automatic switchblade knives and restrictions of blades longer than four-inches, the new proposal only prevents local governments from having more strict rules than state law – known as “preemption.” The watered-down proposal has passed in the House and must be reapproved by the Senate before heading to the governor for his signature.

No Switchblades for Now, But No More Local Knife Rules Under Proposal (TNR)

A bill initially intended to lift restrictions on knives in Tennessee has been scaled back in the state House. It now only prevents cities or counties from putting new restrictions on the books that are more stringent than statewide law. As first introduced, House Bill 581 by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis would have scrapped the state’s current ban on carrying blades longer than four inches. It also would have okayed switchblades and brass knuckles.

Interlock devices for 1st-time DUI offenders goes to governor (N-S/Humphrey)

Sponsors say Tennessee will become the 18th state in the nation to require first-time drunken driving offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle under legislation approved by both the House and Senate on Tuesday. The bill first passed the House 95-0 under sponsorship of Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, then passed the Senate later in the day 31-0. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign it. Under current law, only repeat DUI offenders or first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher can be required to install an interlock device.

Change to state law could help new Knoxville hospital move forward (WATE-TV)

A state law is being changed to make way for a possible new hospital in West Knoxville. Tennova announced in January a purchase option on a 110 acre piece of property along Middlebrook Pike. Hospital officials recently discovered that section of road is designated as a scenic highway, which means there are strict guidelines for new construction. A Tennova spokesperson said they learned of the scenic highway designation within the last month.

Rebates at center of federal probe of Haslam family’s truck stop business (AP)

Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said Tuesday the federal government has launched a criminal investigation into rebates offered by the truck stop chain owned by his family, including his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided the Pilot Flying J headquarters in Knoxville on Monday. Jimmy Haslam, who is the CEO of Pilot Flying J, held a news conference in Knoxville to confirm the investigation is criminal, rather than civil, in nature.

Unpaid rebates focus of Pilot investigation (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Lakin)

Pilot Flying J CEO says raid not tax-related Claims of unpaid fuel rebates apparently led to Monday’s raid on the West Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J as part of a federal criminal investigation, the company’s CEO said. “It appears to be centered on a very insignificant number of customers and the application of rebates — that the rebates owed to the customers were not paid,” CEO Jimmy Haslam said at a short news conference Tuesday. “We of course disagree with that. It does not involve any tax issues. To my knowledge, there was no evasion of state or federal taxes involved.”

Why did the FBI raid Haslam family business? Not even governor knows (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam says he was as surprised as anyone that FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents locked down the headquarters of his family’s company Monday. “They came in looking for certain records, and that’s all I know,” Haslam told reporters at the state capitol. The governor remains a primary shareholder in Pilot Flying J, which produces $20 billion in annual revenue. He stepped down as president of the company in 1998 to pursue another business venture and eventually enter politics.

Haslam says he has no idea why FBI raided headquarters (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam said today he has no idea why the FBI raided the Knoxville headquarters of his family’s Pilot Flying J truck stop chain on Monday “Obviously when something happens like this, there’s a lot of gossip and suspicion about what happened and the truth is nobody knows, and I don’t know either” the governor told reporters. “I really don’t know any more about the facts than you do.” He said he spoke with his brother, Jimmy Haslam, who runs the company on Monday evening. The governor said his brother told him “they were going to cooperate fully and that he firmly believes they haven’t done anything wrong, and I have faith and confidence in him.”

Haslam sticks by Pilot Flying J, downplays federal raid (TN/Cass, Sisk, Allyn)

A day after the FBI locked down the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J, the multibillion-dollar truck stop company owned by the family of Gov. Bill Haslam, his brother downplayed the raid and said he had launched an internal investigation of his own. CEO Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns, held an 11-minute news conference at the company’s headquarters and said the federal probe involves volume discounts, or rebates, on gas that were supposed to have been paid to a “very insignificant number of customers.” Haslam said federal officials believed the rebates were not paid.

‘Shocked’ – Governor’s brother reacts to federal raid on their company (WPLN)

The massive truck-stop chain owned by the family of Tennessee’s governor is facing a criminal investigation, and it’s not about taxes. That’s the word out today from Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, following a raid on the company’s Knoxville headquarters by the FBI and IRS. Details of the allegations are scarce. Governor Bill Haslam said earlier not even he knew what the raid was about. Now his brother Jimmy says it has to do with rebates allegedly owed to a quote “very insignificant” group of customers.

All eyes on Haslams, Pilot Flying J after raid (Nashville Business Journal)

Dozens of FBI and IRS agents raided the Knoxville headquarters of Pilot Flying J Monday, though it is still unclear what authorities are investigating, The Associated Press reports. Pilot Flying J, which has more than 600 travel centers across the U.S. and employs more than 30,000, is the family business of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Gov. Haslam has no position with the company, but has an unspecified holding in it, the AP reports, citing the governor’s financial disclosures.

Jimmy Haslam sends message to employees after FBI, IRS raid (NS/Harrington)

Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam has reached out to his 30,000 employees, urging them to “believe and trust” that the Knoxville-based company has done no wrong amid an ongoing federal investigation. Federal agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided the corporate campus on Lonas Road Monday afternoon but have yet to release any details surrounding the probe. Haslam said Pilot is in the midst of conducting its own internal investigation into the matter.

Knox County reappraisals online today, appeals process also starts (N-S)

The Knox County Property Assessor’s Office this morning is expected to post online the results from the latest reappraisal. In addition, the department will begin looking into informal appeals, which property owners can also file this morning. County Property Assessor Phil Ballard said the new values will be available on his department’s website, http://www.knoxcounty.org/property/. He said those who question the new values can appeal via a link online, or call 865-215-2006. He said folks also can appeal in person at offices in New Harvest Park, downtown or the Cedar Bluff library.

Wharton budget proposes tax rate hike to help prevent $26 million gap (CA/Sells)

Money saved by getting out of the schools business was not enough to prevent a $26 million gap in the Memphis budget that Mayor A C Wharton plans to plug at least in part with the first property tax rate increase since 2006. After Wharton laid out his financial path forward to members of the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, some questioned the plan and whether he was giving members proper respect. It is basically a continuation of last year’s budget, funding city services at close to the same level and part of the administration’s overall “Five Year Strategic Finance and Management Plan” outlined last year to avoid what he called a fiscal crisis point.

Wharton Pitches Budget With 28-Cent Property Tax Rate Hike (M. Daily News)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. presented a $622.5 million operating budget proposal to the Memphis City Council Tuesday, April 16, that would require a property tax rate increase of 28 cents. That would bring the city property tax rate, currently at $3.11, to $3.39. Wharton said the 28 cent rate increase is necessary to make up for $15 million in city revenue lost in the 2013 reappraisal as property values for the purposes of taxation dropped. The rate increase also covers $10 million in added debt service the city begins to pay starting with the new fiscal year July 1 because of a restructuring of the city’s debt several years ago.

Tennessee labor woes not unique, Rep. Black says (Tennessean/Marsteller)

Fixes needed nationwide, lawmaker tells hearing The problems within Tennessee’s unemployment program reached the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, if only briefly. U.S. Rep. Diane Black cited a critical audit of the program during a House subcommittee hearing, saying its findings underscored federal and state governments’ failures to properly use billions in taxpayer dollars. “Clearly, there is still more that needs to be done here,” the Tennessee Republican said during the hearing, which focused on implementation of federal unemployment reforms that were passed last year.  

Scott DesJarlais opponent Jim Tracy leads funding race (TFP/Carroll)

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., once spearheaded a bill to curb abortions in Washington, D.C. U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., says he votes “to help protect the sanctity of life.” U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., supports a federal abortion funding ban. And U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, boasts about belonging to “the Ohio Right to Life Pro-Life Hall of Fame.” Despite their anti-abortion bona fides, the same congressional quartet gave a combined $3,750 to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., between Jan. 1 and March 31.

Tracy sets 4th’s pace in raising donations (Daily News Journal)

State Sen. Jim Tracy garnered more than $436,000 in the first quarter of congressional fundraising for the 2014 4th District GOP primary, far outpacing the $113,475 brought in by the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican who represents eastern Rutherford County, had $404,000 on hand at the end of March, while DesJarlais, a South Pittsburgh Republican and physician, had $86,426 in his war chest, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. “We feel like we’re in a good position,” Tracy said Tuesday. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  

College debt stifles American dream for younger grads (Bloomberg)

College loan debts putting homeownership out of reach Luke Nichter of Harker Heights, Texas, said he’s not a renter by choice. The Texas A&M University history professor’s $125,000 of student debt means he has no hope of getting a mortgage. Nichter, 35, who’s paying $1,500 a month on loans for degrees from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, is part of the most debt-laden generation to emerge from college. Two-thirds of student loans are held by people under age 40, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, blocking millions of them from taking advantage of the most affordable housing market on record.

Hospitals Lobby Hard for Medicaid Expansion (Stateline)

With billions of dollars at stake, hospitals are lobbying hard for Medicaid expansion in Columbus, Tallahassee and other state capitals where state legislators oppose the extension of the program to some 17 million Americans. Hospital associations have paid for television and newspaper ads, organized rallies, and choreographed legislative testimony in support of the Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act. They also have united disparate groups which are used to being on opposite sides of legislative debates.

Inspections show Watts Bar nuclear plant progress (Times Free-Press/Sohn)

The leader of an environmental group Tuesday asked nuclear regulators how they could ensure that the Watts Bar Unit 2 reactor’s concrete foundation — poured 40 years ago — is still sufficient to support the nation’s newest reactor expected to go online in 2015. “Roads and bridges don’t last 40 years, and you’re about to license this [to operate] for another 40 years. And if you give it another 20 after that, like you usually do, by the time the plant is retired that concrete will be 100 years old,” said Don Safer, board chairman of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

Y-12 trespassing charge dismissed against cyclist (News-Sentinel)

A misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge against a bicyclist arrested for riding his bike on a patrol road inside the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant’s perimeter fence line was dismissed Tuesday in Anderson County General Sessions Court. Brent J. Lee, 39, of Oak Ridge apologized for the March 2 incident and was ordered to pay court costs, said his attorney, Sam Lee, who is no relation. “It was something he shouldn’t have been doing, but maybe there was some mitigation there,” Sam Lee said.

Coca-Cola expands: Chattanooga bottling parent grows 45 percent (TFP/Smith)

Coca-Cola is shaking up the bottling empire that began in Chattanooga, as independent bottlers start to swallow chunks of territory that formerly were controlled by The Coca-Cola Co. “A strong franchise system has always been the competitive advantage of the Coca-Cola business globally,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Co. As part of a deal between Coke and its bottlers, the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co. will take on additional responsibility for new territories in the Chattanooga region.

Smithson-Craighead, parents sue MNPS to prevent charter closing (CP/Greenberg)

A lawsuit filed by Smithson-Craighead Middle School and two parents on Monday aims to prevent the charter school from closing at the end of the year. Keisha Johnson and Zina Taylor, on behalf of other SCMS students and parents, sued Metro Nashville Public Schools on Monday, claiming the closure of the charter school is unjust. The suit alleges that students will be “forced to endure an educational experience of lesser quality” when SCMS closes. The Metro school board voted 8-1 last November to close SCMS after the school ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.  

Smithson-Craighead charter school sues to stay open

Smithson-Craighead Middle School says it was treated unfairly Smithson-Craighead Middle School and the parents of two students there are asking a judge to stop the Metro school board-ordered closing of their school. The parents and charter school claim the school was treated unfairly by Metro schools before the closure decision was made in November, and that Metro officials have disrupted the learning atmosphere with site visits ever since. The school is scheduled to close at the end of the current school year.

Ex-Memphis mayor partners with church for third charter school (CA/Roberts)

Willie Herenton plans to break ground this week on a new charter school he is building with a church partner in Hickory Hill, giving the former Memphis mayor’s proposed charter network a third location. Herenton hopes his partnership with Love Fellowship Ministries, 4475 Germantown Road, will help his W.E.B. Du Bois Consortium of Charter Schools generate the kind of buzz that turns into applications and funding. “When parents see that building going up, we predict we will be inundated with applications,” said Herenton, 72, a former Memphis City Schools superintendent who plans to pay himself $200,000 a year as CEO/superintendent of what would be the state’s largest charter school network.  

Mays Weighs School Board Changes (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays remembers the part of the 2011 consent decree in the schools merger case that gives the Shelby County Commission the option of increasing the size of the countywide school board to up to 13 members after Sept. 1. But he told attorneys for all sides Tuesday, April 16, that the consent decree doesn’t specify whether the commission will do that through appointing six people until county elections can be held in the summer of 2014 or whether the six new members would wait on the 2014 elections.

Schools Could Get Additional $4 Million (Memphis Daily News)

When Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell presented his consolidated county government budget proposal last week to county commissioners, he made an important change that may have upped the amount of new revenue available for the consolidated school district. His budget includes just more than $4 million in additional funding for the Sheriff’s Department to provide resource officers to replace Memphis Police officers in what are now Memphis schools once the merger begins. Because Luttrell’s budget proposal is balanced, that means if there is a county property tax hike of 40 cents there is $4 million extra in county funding for schools.  

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Department of Children’s Services moves forward (Commercial Appeal)

Jim Henry, the interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, is not acting like a caretaker for the troubled agency. He has instituted a variety of changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sprawling and seemingly unwieldy agency, whose main mission is to protect children from harm. The latest changes include DCS teaming with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to better train child abuse investigators. Henry also made the prudent decision to move abuse investigations to a new division of Child Safety, which will have its own deputy commissioner.

Editorial: Projects such as Body Farm pay off academically (News-Sentinel)

The University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center — better known as the “Body Farm” — is raising its already high profile by conducting research into mass grave sites. The three-year project has the potential to help international efforts to find evidence of atrocities and perhaps bring mass killers to justice. At the same time, UT’s Anthropology Department is expanding its mission to include international human rights work. Stellar programs such as the Body Farm boost the university’s stature. UT will need to find the resources to develop more such high-profile programs if it is to meet the ambitious goal its leaders have set — to become a top 25 public research university.

Editorial: Strength amid tragedy in Boston (Commercial Appeal)

The festive national flags at the finish line of the Boston Marathon had barely stopped flapping from the force of the bombings when the crowds did something noble and unexpected. Instead of fleeing from the site of the bombings or staring numbly at the wreckage, they rushed to help the wounded, offering reassurance, applying tourniquets and carrying the wounded to the arriving ambulances. These were not just first responders, but the runners themselves and family members and other spectators who had gathered for a celebration that was never to be. This is not what the experts counsel.

Guest columnist: Those who carried out attack can expect no mercy (Tennessean)

I was listening to Nashville’s own Dave Ramsey when the special alert came over the radio. I heard explosions, yelling and sirens. As I drove through Clarksville to pick up my girls from school with the baby asleep in the back, I wondered where the event had happened. When I heard “Boston Marathon,” I started to shake and said, “I have to call my mother, I have to call my mother …” I grew up, and she still lives, three blocks from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I was a senior at Harvard University when 9/11 happened.

Times Editorial: Random acts of terror spur acts of kindness (Times Free-Press)

The bombs that shattered the Boston Marathon on Monday understandably aroused a range of emotions — compassion for the victims, horror at the needless carnage and the lurking fear of our nation’s vulnerability to random acts of terror. Given what Americans learned in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing by an American renegade six years earlier, a latent fear of terrorist acts is understandable. We may not know the who and the why of Boston’s evildoers, their origin or their motive. But whether domestic or foreign, we know at our core the visceral uncertainty that random acts of terror evoke.

Free-Press Editorial: Freedom is a greater good than safety (Times Free-Press)

It began with a flash, a fireball that shattered glass and twisted metal, turning asphalt and nails into missiles that pierced flesh and splintered bone. Then came the shock wave, bursting eardrums, inflicting brain injuries and slamming people to the ground Large explosions, like the ones detonated in Boston on Monday, have two distinct parts. Both are destructive. Both can be deadly. Attacks on American soil come in two waves, as well. First there is the attack itself, which consumes life and limb, crumbles concrete, injects fear, and unites us all through patriotism and compassion.

Editorial: Heroes spring to life in emergency (Daily News Journal)

On Patriots’ Day, disaster led to heroism. Just as firefighters ran up the steps to save people in the 2001 World Trade Center bombing, so too did police, emergency personnel and many others rush to aid people in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing Monday afternoon. Soldiers home from Afghanistan pulled wreckage away from victims, and some runners who just completed the exhausting 26.2-mile run went straight to the hospital to donate blood to bombing victims. This story of bravery is not new to America.

Editorial: Boston terror attack points to the things we value most (Jackson Sun)

In the wake of Monday’s heinous terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon, we join others across America in sending the message that we will not be intimidated. The perpetrators of this terrorist attack will be hunted down and brought to the harsh justice they deserve. No one yet knows who is behind the attack, or what their motivation might have been. But, rest assured, they will be found out. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who were killed and injured and to their shocked and grieving families. We wish all who witnessed the attack a full recovery from the trauma.

Greg Johnson: Raid on Pilot Flying J strikes familiar chord (News-Sentinel)

Police officers at the Pilot store at the corner of Park Road and the Parkway in Sevierville were intensely engaged with an employee Tuesday afternoon. Some grilling was taking place. Another employee had her hand in the till. OK, there was one officer and he chatted amiably with a Pilot employee, coffee cup in hand. The other clerk was making change for a customer. The only “grilling” taking place was on that machine that rotates the sausages I used to consume before I mended my nutritional ways. Had you going, huh? Just to be perfectly clear, nothing nefarious was going on at the Pilot store. Nothing.

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