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May 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 scheduled to speak at Rotary Club breakfast (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam is scheduled to be in Lebanon Thursday morning. The Republican governor is expected to speak at the Wilson County Rotary Club breakfast at the Lebanon Golf and Country Club. Earlier this week, Haslam was at a foundry in Clarksville where he held a ceremonial signing of legislation that changes the way the state considers injured workers’ claims. 

Haslam signs workers’ comp reform into law (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday officially signed legislation reforming the state’s workers’ comp system, The Leaf-Chronicle reports. Haslam told the crowd he wants Tennessee to be a place “where people make things,” so he chose to sign the bill at Clarksville Foundry, a manufacturer that’s been making iron castings for more than 165 years, according to The Leaf-Chronicle. The bill, a major legislative priority for Haslam, will create an independent agency to oversee the system, including appeals that are now heard by the courts.

Gov. Haslam throws support behind Internet sales tax (Memphis Biz Journal)

Tuesday Gov. Bill Haslam said he will encourage Tennessee members of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the Internet sales tax bill that passed in the Senate Monday. The bill will be facing a more difficult road to passage in the House. According to the Commercial Appeal, the governor said that he’s already spoken with some members of the Tennessee House delegation about the bill. “I do think it’s critical for our state. We’re a sales tax driven state. We have folks — this bookstore — that are providing a product and collecting sales tax and other folks who are providing the same product and not collecting sales tax,” said Haslam.

TN Pledges $4M in Race to the Top Funds for Leadership Development (TN Report)

The Tennessee Department of Education has pledged nearly $4 million in Race to the Top funds to pay for eight leadership development programs, which will impact future school leaders in more than 20 districts across the state. The TN LEAD grants were awarded to organizations in partnership with one or more school systems, to either develop or replicate programs aimed at increasing leader effectiveness and improving student outcomes. The programs will target current and pre-service educators, in order to deepen the pipeline of effective leaders in Tennessee schools.

Tennessee adds bonuses to attract, retain strongest teachers (CA/Roberts)

Tennessee upped the ante Wednesday, offering $7,000 bonuses for high-performing teachers who agree to work for two years in any of the state’s 83 chronically low-performing schools. The teachers will get $2,000 for signing and the remaining $5,000 the next summer. The state is also offering a $5,000 retention bonus to teachers with similar credentials who agree to stay another year in a priority school. The bonuses are effective immediately. In both cases, the money will be forfeited if the teachers do not achieve the same high test scores, or in the case of the retention bonus, renege on their commitment to stay a year.

DCS records for eight children who died aren’t available (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

The Department of Children’s Services has conducted no investigations into the deaths of eight children for whom it had some oversight in recent years and will produce no records documenting DCS’ interaction with those children, according to a recent court filing. DCS has been under court order to produce records for 50 children who died in the months leading up to July 1, 2012, as part of a lawsuit brought by The Tennessean and a coalition of the state’s media organizations. Late last week, the agency said it could produce only 42 of the 50 records Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy ordered DCS to submit for her review by May 3.

State expects county to stop landfill leaks (Daily News Journal)

A state official informed local leaders Thursday that the county needs to replace a landfill well, adjust the location of other wells and ensure that trash is capped to prevent leachate leaks. County Solid Waste Director Mac Nolen, his engineering consultant and a representative from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will meet Friday at the county’s landfills off East Jefferson Pike to discuss solutions, Patrick Flood, the director of TDEC’s overseeing the Division of Solid Waste Management, told the County Commission Public Works & Planning Committee.

Crime down at most West Tennessee campuses (Jackson Sun)

Crime was down in 2012 on the campuses of Lane College, Union University, Jackson State Community College and Freed-Hardeman University, according to an annual report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Crime was up at Bethel University and the University of Tennessee at Martin. Data was not collected in 2012 for the University of Memphis at Lambuth. Crime reported by all Tennessee colleges and universities decreased by 4.1 percent in 2012. Several of the colleges in West Tennessee said good relationships with local police have helped lower crime rates.

TDOT plans to widen Concord Road off-ramps (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Drivers who use the Concord Road exit off of Interstate-65 may finally get a little relief. The off-ramps both northbound and southbound are frequently backed up during morning and evening rush hour. The backed up vehicles usually lines the sides of the interstate. This area of Williamson County has grown tremendously over the last several years resulting in more drivers exiting off of Concord Road. The Concord Road off-ramps have been selected by the state as part of a TDOT project to help alleviate traffic in this problem area.

State to host workshop on gathering family history (Associated Press)

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is hosting a workshop to help individuals gather and record information for family history. The workshop is scheduled to be held June 1 at 9:30 a.m. CDT in the TSLA auditorium. Author Jim Taulman will oversee the event. He has 35 years of writing and editorial experience and is a member of the Association of Personal Historians. The session is free to the public, but reservations are being required due to limited seating in the auditorium To make reservations, email workshop.tsla(at)tn.gov or call (615) 741-2764.

Do Farmers Have A Point About Animal Activists And Their Cameras? (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam has been getting an earful from animal rights groups demanding that he veto what they’ve dubbed the “ag gag bill.” The agriculture industry has been largely drowned out, even while working behind the scenes to win the governor’s approval. “Our agriculture producer numbers aren’t as high,” says Lou Nave, executive director of Farm Animal Care Coalition of Tennessee. “But we’ve encouraged them to make any effort they can to tell our story. Farmers feel like they’ve been made out to be the bad guys, Nave says.

DA, Sheriff Criticize Animal-Cruelty Reporting Measure (TN Report)

While Gov. Bill Haslam weighs his options regarding legislation sitting on his desk that opponents have dubbed the “Ag Gag” bill, the chorus of condemnation continues to grow. Earlier this week two prominent Tennessee crime-fighters told TNReport they have concerns about the bill from a policing standpoint. The state’s longest serving district attorney as well as the president of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association are saying the legislation is flawed to such degree that enforcement and prosecutions would be problematic if it becomes law.

Fallout From GOP Falling-Out (Memphis Flyer)

Fallout continues from the bitterness that flared up within Republican ranks at the close of the 2013 legislative session on Friday, April 19th, the date pre-ordained by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), speaker of the state Senate and, up until quite recently, the virtually unchallenged spokesperson for the Republican legislative supermajority. As was chronicled in the Flyer two weeks ago, GOP members of the state House of Representatives vented their anger at domination by the Senate (read: Ramsey) in the session’s last week and made a point of soundly rejecting a judicial redistricting measure that had been personally shaped by Ramsey and was greatly prized by the Senate speaker.

Sen. Douglas Henry confirms he will not seek re-election (City Paper/Hale)

After a legislative career spanning six decades, state Sen. Douglas Henry will leave the state legislature for good next year. Henry’s office confirmed that he will not seek re-election in 2014, as first reported by The Tennessean. An official statement from Henry is expected later today. His Democratic colleagues in the Tennessee House of Representatives lauded his service in a statement Wednesday morning. “Sen. Douglas Henry is the type of legislator we all aspire to be,” read a joint statement from the House Democratic Caucus.

Tom Ingram faces heat over lobbying pay (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

A legendary Tennessee political consultant, currently paid out of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s own pocket for his advice, is under fire for his and his firm’s other paid role in lobbying the administration and state agencies. Tom Ingram was the mastermind behind Haslam’s successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign and since has been paid undisclosed sums by the governor personally for his political and strategic advice on state issues. Shortly before the Haslam campaign started, Ingram left U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office where he served as the Tennessee Republican’s chief of staff.

Black vote gaining power in Tennessee, U.S. (Tennessean/Sisk)

Percentage at polls surpasses whites’ Blacks voted in greater proportion than whites — both nationwide and in Tennessee — during the 2012 election, helping carry President Barack Obama to a second term. Data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau show that African-Americans, as a group, were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have cast a ballot in the November vote for president. The same phenomenon could be found across much of the South and in Tennessee, where the Census Bureau estimates black participation outstripped white voting by more than 6 percentage points.  

Anderson mayor’s budget ax would chop two departments (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

In a bid to keep the county property tax rate unchanged, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank’s budget proposals take a sharp ax to a department and a program, slashing one and virtually dismantling the other. Frank proposes to chop the law director’s department by $56,000 and drastically reduce funding for the fledgling alternatives to incarceration program, already off to a rocky start. The program, foundering without leadership following the resignation of its first director, is funded through 2 cents of the property tax, or the equivalent of about $300,000 a year.

Juvenile Court budget increase request gets cold shoulder (C. Appeal/Moore)

Shelby County commissioners told Juvenile Court officials on Wednesday that the defense of children is paramount, that there need to be assurances that the reforms under way at the court are lasting and asked what would happen if it didn’t get more money. Most, however, did not seem inclined to give the court the additional $1.6 million it is requesting to fund necessary measures required to be in compliance with a memorandum of agreement reached between the court, the county mayor’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice.

$480M county budget to need property tax hike (Daily News Journal)

The county will need a property tax increase to fund a government and schools budget that will grow by nearly 8.5 percent for a total of $480 million, an official confirmed Wednesday. “As currently presented, appropriations exceed revenues by $27.1 million,” County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said during an interview at her office at the County Courthouse Wednesday. Nolen declined to identify how much the possible tax increase could be until today when she and County Mayor Ernest Burgess will present tax and spending recommendations for the next fiscal year to the County Commission Budget, Finance & Investment Committee.

City Council OKs School Funding Talks (Memphis Daily News)

The newest front in the move to the schools merger in less than two months is an old legal claim that continues to pop up as the countywide school board looks for any new funding it can secure. Memphis City Council members passed a resolution Tuesday, May 7, to start negotiations among the council, the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and the countywide school board. On the table is the Memphis City Schools system’s court judgment against the city for $57 million and the city’s counterclaim for more than twice that in money it claims MCS owes the city over several years.

No new taxes, new park and fire station in McMillan’s city of Clarksville budget (LC)

Mayor Kim McMillan unveiled a $307.5-million budget Wednesday afternoon that does not raise taxes but does provide for a 2 percent wage increase for eligible employees, $1.4 million for a new fire station near Exit 1 and $325,00 for a new park near Sango. “This proposal that I present to you today… is a balanced budget,” McMillan told a crowd of city department heads. “I also want to be clear, my budget proposal does not include any tax increases.” McMillan’s $307.5-million proposed budget is a 4.3 percent increase over last year’s $294.8-million budget, according to the budget analysis available on the city’s website Wednesday evening.

Alexander to Corps Of Engineers: This Dam Thing Has Gone Far Enough (WPLN)

If the Corps of Engineers won’t lift restrictions on fishing below dams, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says he’ll place his own restrictions on the Corps’ spending. The Corps of Engineers has more than 900 active construction projects, some of them in Tennessee. In a hearing Wednesday, Alexander told Corps officials he would make them ask permission to move even small amounts of money between project accounts. “You’re going to find it very hard to get my approval for any reprogramming request for the Corps of Engineers anywhere in the country until I get the Corps’ attention on this issue.”

Alexander may hold up Corps budget requests if restrictions enforced (TN/Gang)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Wednesday threatened to hold up budget requests involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if that agency moves forward with its current plan to restrict fishing access near Cumberland River dams. “You are really thumbing your nose at the elected officials of the people of this country,” Alexander, R-Tenn., said during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing. “You ought to be paying attention to our judgment on this, especially when so many members of Congress of both sides of the aisle have made themselves clear on this.”

Rep. Blackburn wants budget to continue Fort Campbell programs (TN/Barton)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn urged a key House committee on Wednesday to protect programs at Fort Campbell that she described as vital to the combat readiness of the 101st Airborne Division. Blackburn, R-Brentwood, testified to the House Armed Services Committee about military funding priorities for the 7th Congressional District. The committee is working on a comprehensive bill that authorizes spending for military programs in the fiscal 2014 budget. The congresswoman stressed the Flying Hour program that provides aviation training to both individuals and units at the base.

Tennessee Republicans Don’t Agree On Pressing Benghazi Inquiry (WPLN-Radio)

Two Tennessee Republicans are not exactly on the same page over the ongoing inquiry into last year’s deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senator Bob Corker is critical of the State Department, while saying he feels he knows all he needs to. But Representative Scott DesJarlais insists there’s deeper to dig. At a hearing of the House Oversight Committee, DesJarlais took aim at Democrats who say it’s time to move past the Obama administration’s initial response. “If you listen to the other side, you’d think it’s time just to move on from this. They would agree with Secretary Clinton.

Tennessee’s Web sales tax bill stalls in House (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Despite its easy passage in the Senate earlier this week, Sen. Lamar Alexander’s top legislative priority is being slow-walked by House Republicans as he heads into re-election season. To much fanfare Monday evening, Alexander’s online sales tax legislation breezed through the Senate, 69-27. But the controversial bill must pass Congress’s other half to reach President Barack Obama’s desk. The legislation’s path hit turbulence Tuesday when House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, joined a key House committee’s top leaders to stonewall the bill for the foreseeable future.

Sequester brings cuts to North Chattanooga Head Start program (TFP/Putman)

Several Latino mothers say their children were shy and did not speak before enrolling in the North Chattanooga Head Start/Early Head Start program. Now their children hold conversations in English and Spanish, know their ABC’s and have become more sociable. That’s why the parents are so concerned that the North Chattanooga Head Start site is scheduled to close at the end of this month. “There’s got to be something better than shutting it down,” said Danielle Davis, a working mom whose son attends the program.

Ruling Affects Tennessee Open Records Law (Memphis Daily News)

The Tennessee Open Records Law is one of several state laws upheld in a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling for its limitations on requests for public records by those who live outside of the state in question. In an unanimous opinion April 29, the high court ruled it is legal for a state to limit the use of its open records or Freedom of Information Act law to its own residents. Tennessee state law sets out what is considered public record and in another part of the Tennessee code specifies that it applies to requests by “any citizen of this state.”

TVA names college site ‘Ready to Recruit’ (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Benton)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has named 100 acres of land adjacent to Northeast Alabama Community College between Fort Payne and Scottsboro to its list of data center sites deemed “ready to recruit.” The designation means the site is ideal for building and operating a “data center,” referring to facilities that house computer systems to store data for Internet companies, financial transaction processors and various high-tech industries. NACC President Dr. David Campbell said school officials are happy to be connected with the site and to be part of its future.

Nun Among Three Convicted in Weapons Protest (Associated Press)

An 83-year-old nun and two fellow protesters were convicted Wednesday of interfering with national security when they broke into a nuclear weapons facility and defaced a uranium processing plant. The three were found guilty of a charge of sabotaging the plant and of damaging federal property at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge in July. In testimony on Wednesday, the three, Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, said they had no remorse and were pleased to reach one of the most secure parts of the facility.

Jury finds Y-12 intruders guilty of injuring national defense (News-Sentinel/Munger)

Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed surprised everyone, including themselves, when they managed to penetrate the high-security core of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge last summer and stage an unprecedented protest at the foot of the nation’s storehouse for bomb-grade uranium. But no one seemed shocked Wednesday after a jury found them guilty on both felony charges brought by the federal government, including the rarely used count of injuring or obstructing the national defense.

Aware of trial’s likely outcome, supporters kept up the faith (News-Sentinel/Balloch)

Support for the three protesters who broke into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge was on display Wednesday, from the federal courtroom where they were being tried to Market Square, where a brief outdoor play illustrated their point. Many expected Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed to be convicted of their July 28, 2012, incursion. “But I am always open to the possibility of that great surprise (of a not-guilty verdict),” said Bill Bichsel, 85, a Jesuit priest from Tacoma, Wash., who has himself spent time in prison for another protest activity.

Release of Medicare data shows wide range of hospital prices (Tenn/Wilemon)

What individual hospitals charge for medical procedures is no longer a mystery to patients with the federal government’s release Wednesday of data from Medicare billings that show major price differences in hospitals across the country, including those in Middle Tennessee. For instance, the average charge for treating pneumonia without complications ranged from $11,476 at Williamson Medical Center to $27,510 at TriStar Centennial Medical Center. But that’s only one category of the 100 most common hospital procedures provided in the data — and those figures, hospital officials caution, do not reflect the actual amount that a hospital and payer usually agree upon.

Memphis teacher pay not hurt as much by recession as others (CA/Roberts)

Over the last four years, teacher pay in the majority of the nation’s largest school districts either flattened or dropped — but not in Memphis and seven other cities. Teachers here received average annual hikes of 3.6 percent, according to a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality released this week. Nationally, the average was 1.9 percent, and only six cities in the study saw larger salary gains for teachers: Milwaukee and New York (4.1 percent); Baltimore (4.4 percent); Jefferson County (Louisville), Ky. (4.5 percent); Fresno, Calif. (4.9 percent) and Chicago (6.5 percent).

Driver’s education classes cut while teen crashes increase (WATE-TV Knoxville)

East Tennessee school administrators and first responders say making the hard choice of cutting driver’s education programs can have unfortunate consequences. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens in the country. Teens are involved in fatal crashes three times more than all other drivers, much of that is attributed to inexperience. “It scares me every time we run a wreck, especially in my hometown in the Powell area,” said Jeff Petress, assistant chief for Knox County Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Six people charged with meth manufacturing after Donelson home raid (C. Paper)

The Metro Nashville Police Department’s Specialized Investigations Division busted up what they allege was a methamphetamine lab in Donelson on Tuesday afternoon. Police arrested Joel Koenig, Lisa Koenig, Lisa Jones, Donie Joseph Lawrence, Matthew Samuel and Elliot Douglas Smith after executing a search warrant at a Downeymeade Drive home. The investigation revealed that meth had allegedly been cooked in the home on Monday night. Police say they found the makings of a meth lab, including a coffee grinder with white residue and empty pseudoephedrine packets.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Fee increases are unwanted but necessary funds (News-Sentinel)

The Tennessee Legislature rolled back taxes in the 2013 session, but the same can’t be said for fees paid to state agencies. Last week two legislative committees — one in the House and one in the Senate — took up the issue, and legislators were not happy. In an era when tax increases are viewed with hatred, there is not much love for increases in fees, either. Fees are charged for a wide range of reasons, from driver’s licenses to wastewater discharge permits. Fees differ from taxes in that they are charged to people and businesses to pay for specific programs that benefit them or regulate their activities.

Frank Cagle: One Party is No Party (Metro Pulse)

Haslam, Ramsey, Harwell Either Unite or Lose Control of State Government Post-session commentary has focused on the failure of major bills despite the Republicans having a super-majority in the state Legislature. It was bad and it could get worse as there appears to be a major split between the House and Senate leadership. As to the Republican super-majority? One-party rule means no-party rule. That’s the lesson you learned if you grew up in the Democratic Solid South, when Republicans were nonexistent in public office. In the old days in the Deep South, the Democratic primary and a subsequent run-off were the only elections that ever mattered.

Editorial: I-40 expansion helps set stage for economic development (Jackson Sun)

It can be argued that the development of Interstate 40 helped make Jackson what it is today, just as railroads made Jackson what it was more than a half century ago. Transportation brings jobs and economic development to communities. That’s why continued development of the I-40 corridor through Jackson remains a key factor in the city’s growth. Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist’s announcement this week that funding is in place to redesign the I-40-North Highland Avenue interchange is good news. The redesign will be completed at the same time the Tennessee Department of Transportation widens I-40 from two lanes in each direction to three lanes as it passes through the city.  

Editorial: Fair approach on emissions inspections (Commercial Appeal)

The importance of complying with federal air-quality standards to promote better health and encourage economic development should be a countywide concern in Shelby County. So far, no logical argument has been made for continuing to limit the current system of motor vehicle emissions inspections to drivers who happen to live within the Memphis city limits. That was the primary driver of last year’s City Council decision to halt funding for the program after the current fiscal year ends June 30. Like the council’s decision in 2008 to halt funding for Memphis City Schools, however, quitting the emissions testing business left a vacuum that is politically difficult to fill.

 

Charlie Daniel Political Cartoon: “The Internet” (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

 

Guest columnists: Put aside medical ‘turf wars’ (Tennessean)

Job titles shouldn’t determine who can best assist an individual with their health care needs, as a recent Tennessean op-ed by Dr. Newton Allen Jr. suggested. Instead, the needs of the person should be matched to the most appropriate health care provider. Sometimes that perfect match is a physician. Sometimes that perfect match for a patient’s needs is a board-certified, master’s or doctorally prepared advanced practice nurse. Sometimes that perfect match is a social worker or pharmacist or physical therapist or other health care professional.

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